Friday, Day 7
There is only one road from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to Jimma, the town where 2009 World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta went to high school. Appropriately enough, it is named Jimma Road.
A two-lane licorice strip of asphalt stretching for 340 kilometers (about 207 miles), Jimma Road delicately wraps around the mountains of the southeast portion of the country, ending in Jimma, the home of coffee.
The road is sprinkled with cattle, burros, goats, guinea fowl, monkeys, dogs and people, each outnumbering the cars on the roadway. Which is fortunate, since our driver likes to use the whole road to maneuver his way around the menagerie we pass along the way.
The resourceful Ethiopians use several football-sized rocks to warn motorists that a disabled vehicle is ahead. It is much more eco-friendly than the signal flares or orange barrels used in the U.S.
The last time Gebisa was this way was 41 years ago, when he was returning home after graduating from Jimma Agricultural & Technical School in 1968. The road was gravel back then and no less perilous, and what is a six-hour trip today took all day in 1968.
"They used to call Ethiopia the Switzerland of Africa," Gebisa boasts as we hurtle down the side of the mountain.
But now, as we draw close to the school, Gebisa struggles to pick out any landmarks of his youth.
"None of this looks familiar to me," he says. Time and distance can be a difficult tag team to overcome. But as we turn the last corner toward the Jimma campus, a smile erases the furrows in Gebisa’s brow. "Ah, this is it. Now I remember."
Gebisa and members of the current Jimma staff share coffee (what else?) and memories under a spreading fig tree at the center of campus.
How both have grown since 1964 when a shy, scrawny Gebisa first traveled the 400 kilometers from his village to enroll as a freshman at the 200-student school. Within a year he had sprouted six inches and developed a love of agriculture that would one day lead to the World Food Prize.
And the school? It is now a college of 10,000 students, 2,000 of them studying agriculture.