Trip of a lifetime through the ragged Bale Mountains

Written by Mohammed A

By Nabi’ Aliyee

Hello everyone from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It’s the year 2004 here and the weather is so beautiful. My name is Nabila Aliye; I arrived in Ethiopia on a family vacation on Jan. 7, a warm Christmas day in Addis, which threw me off at first since I’ve only known one X-mas all my life.

On this very first trip to Ethiopia, my only goal is to make as many memories of the land, the people, and the culture as I can possibly have. I plan on living my own ‘Ethiopian’ experience. It’s only fair that l make my own story right? I will be blogging about my entire trip as much as possible given the Internet connection issues here. I’m pretty excited that has provided me with the venue because l love writing. I want to start with the very reason that brought me to this small remote village in southeastern Oromia, Bale, called Ayibiisaa.

My father, Aman Aliyee, left this village more than 26 years ago and hasn’t returned till this day. Growing up in the states, I always wanted to meet my father’s side of the family, and now that I’m older and mature enough, this seemed the prefect time to do so. My mother is from Gindhir (Ginir) and my father hails from Ayibiisaa.

We began our trip on Jan. 8, 2004 (it’s still 2004 in Ethiopia) early morning heading southeast from Addis. We took a taxi from our hotel to the local bus station, akin to the Greyhound in the States, only bigger, crowded and chaotic. In Ethiopia, they don’t have a “nonstop” bus service, which drove me nuts. Our next connection was Shashamane, 240 kms from Addis, a 7-hour ride along a pretty well paved Cairo-Cape Town Trans-African Highway 4, but in an uncomfortable bus. l saw things I’ve never seen before like animals, and children selling gum and water roadside. It was like a rude awakening because l landed in Ethiopia less than 24 hours ago, to only find dust and dirty everywhere. Here I was being rushed, and forced to comply with a culture I’m completely unaware of with no time to adjust as it was all happening so fast.

As the bus whisked us along Addis-Shashemane road, one image, the image of seeing toddlers with no shoes hanging out in dry areas either fetching water or watching a herd of cows stood out for me. What seemed so normal to everyone else was extremely sad to me. I thought to myself, ” Why aren’t these children in school and where are their parents?”

Little did I know that children, all over Ethiopia, raise themselves. The final leg in our journey, was yet another 150 kms or 4-hour bus ride to Robe, the administrative capital of Bale region. Once you pass Shashamane, the scenery changes dramatically, with spectacular views. There were no longer flat lands and dry grass, and no sight of kids hanging out or selling goodies on the streets. Bale is lush green surrounded by mountains upon mountains and the trees that line the streets reminded me of my home town of Seattle, Washington, The Evergreen State.

The entire ride was ‘breezy’ and beautiful as the sun began to set. The roads were fine until we reached the Bale Mountains, the scariest experience of my entire life. If you ask me whether I’d come close to death, l would probably say yes. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for the ride through this mountainous landscape. The bus careened on the edge of the mountain through a massive construction that was going on. Literally, I felt as though my heart was going to pop out of my chest. l was sweating from fear that I was going to die right there at any moment.

I was convinced that we were not going to make it out of this mountain alive. I began to pray. Intensely. But the driver, who I am sure drove on this road countless times before, seemed very confident. When we got out of the Qilee (a deep gorge), after 30 minutes of what seemed a near death experience, I sighed, Allahumdulillah. My heart began to beat slowly again.

I will never forget this experience. The ride through the mountains set my mood for the rest of the trip. My father and I arrived in Robe very late so we took the first bus to Ayibiisaa in the morning, a yet another 3-hour bus ride this time along an even more rough roads. I was still upset about the terrifying ride through the mountains. My father found it entertaining that l was on the edge from the moment we landed in Ethiopia.

I arrived in Ayibiisaa exhausted and tired; l couldn’t believe what l had to endure to just to get there. I was pretty agitated. But then my heart started beating faster again. What was l going to see? How was I going to translate my new environment into words? Boy, little did I know, I was going to be cut off from the rest of the world. Remote is an understatement a description for Ayibiisaa; no cell phones, no shops, and no other sights of ‘modernity.’ It was a hot day; the sun felt like it was right on me. The carry-on bag felt like l was dragging a huge luggage.

At the bus stop, relatives, most of whom I have known only through names, were gathered to pick us up. I stopped and took a good look realizing how beautiful this place was. l was finally home, among my kinsmen, after 25 years of separation. All the anger I felt on the treacherous journey here vanished instantly. I was overwhelmed by love, hugs and kisses from strangers, who knew me only through pictures my father had sent. I can’t quite figure it out but l felt a sense of belonging to the place and its people – its home even if for that tender moment. As tears of joy began to tremble, it seemed as though my feelings were transformed by a miracle. No more scared or shocked.

The long journey from Addis to Ayibiisaa has come to an end. I’ve reached my final and the most important destination, a journey of a lifetime. Nothing in the world could explain how l felt or feel about it now. After being greeted by everyone, there was just one person left, my paternal grandmother. She’s the very reason l made this journey. I’ve longed to touch, tell her how much l love her and wanted to do so in person. I was honored to meet the woman who gave birth to the person l love so dearly, my father. Holding my grandmother, l knew I’ve done what my family proud and what God long wanted me to do.

This little mud-hut, where my relatives lived with pride for more than 100 years, meant a world to me for a moment. There is no running water, electrically, and bathroom in this village. The locals lead an extremely simple, egalitarian, life. Coming from a first world this is just awful. There are no bedrooms, no kitchen and everyone sleeps on the floor all next each other. Food is grown on the land and a vast expanse of farms encompass the village. As tradition has it, they slaughtered a cow for us, the most important guests in town. And the feast began.

A room full of love, new faces but we all shared one thing, a lineage, pride and oral history. The room began to fill as the sun was setting; my arrival was the talk of the entire village. People who weren’t family came a long way to visit me. Conversations were getting interested, as l was the center of the attention. One thing that shocked everyone was the fact that l spoke Afaan Oromo. I guess they assumed l was going to be mute. But my parents raised me better than that and l was able to carry on a conversation in one of the sweetest dialect in all of Oromia, which in my opinion is the Bale dialect.

We stayed up the whole night until the sun came up; talking, eating and taking photos, something the village folks loved. I couldn’t have been any happier. Ayibiisaa is a truly remarkable place, cut off from the rest of the world, but still very alive in Oromo heritage and deep sense of appreciation for family and kinship. I am a proud Aliyee. This experience has changed me in ways l could never utter. I left Ayibiisaa fulfilled, but sad because l couldn’t take them with me. If there is one thing l learned in my short time in Ayibiisaa, NOTHING COMES CLOSE TO FAMILY.

Thank you for reading.



About the author

Mohammed A

Mohammed Ademo is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. He's the founder and editor of, an independent news website about Ethiopia.

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