Our revisit to Emdeber in the heart of the Gurage country where I taught from 1967-68 began at the Millennium Hotel, just around the corner from our 10-story apartment building. The assembled cast included myself, my fellow former Peace Corps teacher Phillip Lebel , his wife Daniele, the son of Daniele's neighbor in France, Renault (who was in Addis Ababa leading a workshop in servicing Mercedes), and our driver Yacob H., an attorney who is an old friend of Phil who grew up in the Gurage Country.
We had a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs and spicy meat, with lots of good Ethiopian coffee. The manager of the Hotel, Dinku W., is an urban Gurage, who was vastly amused that we were returning to his home country. We all piled into Yacob's SUV and took off round the traffic circle to the Jimma Road. The part of the Gurage Country that we were going to is known as "The Seven Houses of Gurage" and is about 4 hours by car. Of course we did some meandering along the way.
The road to the outskirts of the City was lined with small colorful shops, mostly food and drink places but an occasional variety store. Every corner had an impromptu open market where people were selling vegetables, spices, and other home essentials. The road itself was filled with pedestrians and livestock coming into the big city market, and a wide variety of buses, lorries and other cars were competing for space. Especially intriguing were the little donkeys with their large loads of hay. We finally made it to the main expressway and then stopped for fuel, which sells for more than $4 US per gallon. Once outside the City we saw broad plains filled with golden flowers, which are a source of cooking oil, and high rugged mountains rising above the fields. One surprising sight was the vast flower greenhouses that are now occupying major fields, with the flowers being air-shipped to Europe.
Our first watering stop two hours later was at the Negash Lodge in Weliso, a beautifully renovated resort hotel built by the Italians (1935-1941) during their brief occupation of Ethiopia. We then took off for Welkite, an hour away, noting how the cultural landscape was shifting from Oromo and Amhara grain farms to Gurage. The Gurage villages are very distinctive with their long central avenue, lined on both sides by round thatched houses reinforced with horizontal bamboo poles. Each Gurage house is also surrounded on three sides by huge false banana trees (ensete), which provide these people with a drought resistant staple crop; they also grow some coffee and chat for cash crops and keep a herd of cattle in their collectively owned fields.
At Welkite we turned left onto the road to the Gurage heartland, with Emdeber some 30 minutes away. All the roads in the Gurage country have been planned and constructed by the Gurage, with some recent help from the Government. We crossed the deep Wabi River, climbed up the steep embankment, and were immediately surrounded by a large flat lower plain where hundreds of cattle were grazing. There were also strings of Gurage villages here and there. One new thing we saw as we drove further were several brand new small Mosques, funded by the Saudis. About a third of the Gurage have traditionally been Muslim but now they are being aggressively recruited into a conservative Muslim sect. We also saw huge transmission lines crossing the fields, something that we certainly did not see in the 1960's, there only being a single phone line reaching Emdeber in 1968.
As we approached the outskirts of Emdeber town we stopped at the new secondary school and were very impressed with all the new buildings, the satellite dish, and the evident supply of electricity and running water. We called the headmaster, Fikadu B., to make an appointment to see the computer lab the next day. We then journeyed a short distance to our former secondary school, now downgraded to 1-8 grades. There we were also impressed with the many new buildings, banks and other signs of improvement. Further down the road we entered the center of Emdeber and pulled into the compound of the very new Murore Hotel.
We were astounded! When we were in Emdeber as teachers the only rented rooms for guests were behind small food and drinking places, and some were rented by the hour. This new hotel had a beautiful open plaza filled with blooming flowers, with about 24 rooms on two sides. The rooms had a full sized bed, modern bathroom facilities (!), and a living room with comfortable chairs, all for about $10 US a night; the main tourist hotels in many parts of Ethiopia rent out rooms for a minimum of $100 US a night, and the rooms in Emdeber were spotless! There is also another new hotel in town, larger but we have heard not as well kept.
We all checked in and than went off to see if we could find Phil's former landlady, Atsede. Well, Phil's house had been torn down, sad to say, but right next door was his landlady's house, in excellent condition, and she was in residence. She's a very bright and witty lady in her 80's and she was delighted to meet Phil again and also gave the rest of us a warm welcome. After staying a while and taking some pictures we made an appointment to come back the following morning for brunch.
Next we drove up to the headquarters of the Gurage Catholic Church, now elevated in status to a Cathedral complete with bishop. About a tenth of the Gurages in this area are Catholics and the Church also provides health clinics, schools, and agricultural advice through its network of 12 or so missions. The remaining population is Ethiopian Orthodox.
Next we drove back up to the main road and headed south toward the highlands of Daquna. From both sides of the SUV we could see chains of Gurage villages running along the ridges, with deep valleys on each side. Most were traditional thatched round houses but there were now a few rectangular buildings along the main road with corrugated metal roofs and occasional ones in the countryside. When we got up to Daquna, Jacob stopped at the house of the local clan Chief Zeregato to share the news; Jacob had run as an opposition candidate in the 2005 national election and almost won. We were all invited in to the Chief's house, a much larger traditional style house but on a brick foundation, with windows, electricity and an operating bathroom. We then walked across the road to the neighboring beer house and had another round of drinks.
By this time it was getting late in the afternoon so we took off down the long winding road back to Emdeber, visiting another clan chief's house as we neared town. Then we drove to our hotel, freshened up in our rooms, and sat down for a supper of roasted lamb, injera, and berbare spice. It had been a long day but the fun was only just beginning! In walked a group of middle-aged urban Gurages, and their leader, Fikre H. F., came over to our table to chat with us. We explained why we were in Emdeber and he was both amused and impressed. He and his group had come to town to help plan for a new technical college in Emdeber. Well, he invited us to an after dinner BBQ in the hotel compound and even though we were stuffed to the gills we couldn't pass up his kind offer. So we gathered some chairs, the hotel staff built the bonfire and placed on it a huge wak full of cut up pieces of lamb. Above we could see the stars bright and clear, with the familiar constellation of Orion directly overhead. Beer was offered as well as wine and even harder stuff. And we soon were regaling one another with stories of Emdeber students we had known. Phil's Amharic is still quite good and he can generally chatter at a fairly rapid pace. Mine is more basic; I can follow the conversation roughly and add in an appropriate comment now and then. We learned that several of our students had gone on to the States and secured professional degrees and positions there. Others were working in responsible positions in the Ethiopian ministries. Still others had seemingly disappeared or had sadly died in the civil unrest in the 1970's and 1980's. One of Fikre's group finally identified himself as one of our students; he's now an engineer. What a delight it is to have chance play nice tricks!
The next morning we staggered out of bed for breakfast in the hotel plaza. I got some pictures of a flock of vultures cleaning up the leftovers in the plaza; a tiny little girl was trying to shoo them away. Breakfast was great but then it was time for brunch with Phil's landlady. Atsede had invited more of her family to welcome us, some of whom we had never met since they hadn't been born when we were in residence! We were served coffee, freshly brewed from the coffee trees in the backyard, and with sugar, not the traditional salt and butter. Phil then showed Atsede via his laptop a set of pictures he had taken of her and her family at work in the fields, making pottery, and entertaining. She was delighted to see all those youthful images!
We then went up to the Cathedral to see if we could find Phil's former cook Tamare but this time we had no luck but at least people reported that she was alive and well. I looked for my old house as well but it appeared to have been another victim of Emdeber urban renewal. We then picked up the secondary school headmaster and drove down to the new school. They do have a lot of computer equipment there, about 30 desktops in working order but for a thousand students; they also have about ten newer computers reserved for their staff. However, it wasn't that clear how well students were being taught and the school no longer had any access to the internet via their satellite dish. We are considering donating money to the school for another year of internet service. I do wish we had had more time to talk with more of the teachers but it was time to visit Gura, a nearby village where Yacob had been raised.
Gura was down several backroads and even Yacob got lost a couple of times, one false banana tree lined avenue looking very much like another. But we finally pulled up to his family's house. A younger brother was now occupying the house, since both of Yacob's parents had passed away. The house was well-maintained, primarily thanks to Yacob's periodic contributions. We were given another warm welcome and at least two dozen other relatives and neighbors gathered in to chat. This time we were served coffee with the traditional butter and salt, followed up by araqi, the Gurage equivalent of White Lightning.
By now it was getting late so we bid everyone a fond farewell and scuttled back to Addis, stopping briefly in Welkite and Weliso for refreshments. All in all we couldn't have asked for a better revisit!
Well, here in Addis Ababa there are good days and bad days, and sometimes they happen on the same day.
This morning we rode with Phil's favorite taxi driver, Girma, to the US Embassy to send out my first report from a reliable internet base; Phil and Daniele had similar work to do. The US Embassy is way up the north end of town on the Mt. Entoto Road. We pulled up a few hundred yards from the front of the concrete barriers; the Embassy staff are considerably concerned about security, which is not surprising although there has never been a major incident here. Phil and Daniele had already been checked in for ID badges shortly after they arrived from the States. I, alas, had not begun the process. They were willing to let me in with a temporary badge but not my laptop computer. So I downloaded my initial report onto one of Phil's thumbdrives and reloaded it onto Daniele's computer. Once inside it took me about fifteen minutes to send everything out to my wife in the States. Then I turned over the laptop to Daniele and meditated for the next three hours. We had a brief lunch in the Embassy cafeteria, picked up my laptop at the gate (it was still there!) and Phil went off for an appointment with the Chair of the Economics Department where he'll be working in a week or so. I decided to attempt to contact the Chair of the Geography Department, Dr. Muluneh W., whom I had learned from reviewing the internet, before returning to Ethiopia, had done considerable research on the Gurage.
I had not been able to contact Dr. Muluneh in advance because my cellphone had locked up once again. So I wasn't even sure if he would be there at the University, since it wasn't in session. However, I was directed to the Geography Department by helpful students who assured me that where they were sending me was not the lion's den. I was actually standing upstairs in front of the Department Office when several professors came up the stairs and one of them was Dr. Muluneh. Not only was he quite friendly but he is one of ten people in the entire world who has read my Master's Thesis on the Gurage Cultural Landscape! He showed me some of his research and then we got out my laptop computer and I showed him my 1957 Gurage aerial photographs, and my maps. He was honored to copy the files onto his computer. He is also a Gurage, another amazing coincidence, and knew Phil and I at the Emdeber School but he was in the 8th grade when we left. Thursday he is going to give me a copy of his Ph.D. research. We went out for coffee and I broached the idea that I was looking for a capable but needy student to accept my laptop as a gift when I left. He is going to think it over.
I then went out to the Sadist Kilo monument to meet Phil and Daniele and our cab driver. We never seem to take the same route twice in this City, and one of Girma's shortcuts took us through a neighborhood nick-named "To Cry Out is Hopeless." Fortunately his cab did not stall.
Tonight Daniele is making crepes, in honor of "Fat Tuesday," Life is wonderful again!
Today was a quiet day spent shopping for souvenirs. I caught a late morning taxi up to the General Post Office area where the souvenir shops line Nigeria Street. Once there I had a great time going from shop to shop looking at pottery, basketwork, horn glasses, coins, jewelry, and other interesting things. Some appeared to be antique but things age fast in Ethiopia! I finally bought a couple of black Gurage pottery bowls as a housewarming gift for Phil and Daniele, and a nice horn goblet for myself.
While shopping I evidently made one firm friend of a shoeshine boy who was very polite but persistent, and he won the day for a small donation. I tend to pick and choose who to give to here. There are many who ask and most I politely decline to donate to. If one begins to hand out donations to more than one person at a time a crowd will suddenly gather and the whole situation can get quite scary.
I was unsuccessful in securing a photo of the souvenirs shops because one of the guards at the Post Office was bent on asserting his imperial authority. I argued briefly with him but it's better to comply. Perhaps I'll get a shot some other day. Daniele is interested in doing some shopping there this weekend.
Once home, I freshened up, took a nap, and then we went out to what once was an Italian restaurant, the Samay Restaurant, about 15 minutes walk up the road from our building. It certainly had a lot of atmosphere, lots of wood carving, a beautiful hardwood floor, and antique lighting. They still prepare some Italian dishes. I had pasta with a tomato based meat sauce while Phil and Daniele ordered the Nile perch (which appeared to be quite fresh!). We all enjoyed our dinners.
This has been a good day. I again shared a ride with Phil and Daniele to the University.
I had a good experience posting my previous update from an internet café; they only charge about $1 US an hour so I felt very comfortable composing my report, editing from what I had composed the evening before on my thumb-drive. I then walked over to the University bookstore and found an economic evaluation of the Gurage area, from 1995 to 2000, that Phil had mentioned, a very intriguing study for those of us with such interest! I did some initial reading while waiting for my follow-up appointment with the Geography Department Chairman, Dr. Muluneh,
Dr. Muluneh was a few minutes late but in this society it is better for people like me to be on time and be patient. We talked some more about the Gurage Country. He was very interested in the book I had just purchased as well, making note of it. Then he loaded up my transfer drive with his Gurage thesis research, including maps and pictures. He's also narrowed down the candidates for my to be donated laptop and we now have a follow-up appointment where I'll meet the student and make sure he or she can do the basic operations.
Next I walked over to the Center for Ethiopian Studies on campus, admired the historic paintings, and the current exhibit of Ethiopian history. One curiosity that I had passed on the way in was explained in the exhibit; it was a set of spiraling stairs going nowhere emplaced in the plaza in front of the Museum; it was constructed by the Italians during their occupation, with each step representing a year of their Fascist government in Italy. Evidently the Ethiopians appreciate the irony of this monument. And they even added a small lion on the top step! Inside I found another book about the culture of the Gurage as told and explained by a Gurage and happily read that for an hour. There were some interesting stories that were passed down generation to generation that I had only seen brief reference to. There were also stories of the first Europeans who had traveled through the country.
By this time it was near lunch so I caught a taxi over to Masqual Square, which would be near my afternoon follow-up appointment at the Ethiopian Mapping Agency. I had noted on a previous ride through the square that the old China Bar still existed and appeared to be in working order. The China Bar was one of the few places that we Peace Corps teachers would go once or twice a year for a special treat. It looked the same, the ceiling full of brilliantly colored tiles with dragons, the waiters and waitresses impeccably dressed. The menu looked good too. I did not order the lobster at $80 US but was intrigued to find it listed on the menu; we were joking in Emdeber the previous weekend about importing lobsters there from Maine! Maybe we should make a deal with the China Bar; lobsterman in Maine only get about $5 US wholesale each for their catch. I ordered fried chicken with vegetables and rice and it was delicious!
I then walked up the hill toward the Mapping Agency. I had only walked down the hill before and I'm glad that I had plenty of time because the hill was quite steep and the sun was quite hot. I was also wearing my best blue blazer, Greek sailor cap, and carrying the somewhat heavy laptop. My appointment was with the Director General, Sultan M., whom I may have mentioned was another of our bright students when we were teaching in Emdeber. I finally found my way to his office on the top floor through a maze of stairs and hallways and completely out of breath but still on time. Sultan was completing a meeting with his staff so I had 15 minutes to compose myself. Then his staff left and Sultan invited me into his office. He appeared delighted to see me and after discussing our mutual friends from here and away we went right to work transferring my research files to his computer. He confirmed that there were no new systematic air photos of the Gurage area since 1975 but they were planning new survey runs soon. He showed me one draft map which portrayed the current road network for the general area. He was very familiar with the urban Gurages we had met in Emdeber, Fikre and his crew. So we talked some more about the development issues of the Gurage. He also wants to meet Phil and mentioned that he actually lives in our neighborhood, a short walk from our apartment. I then mentioned that I wanted to pick up two more maps adjacent to the ones I'd purchased earlier in the week and he immediately sent a messenger down to initiate the process. He next asked how I planned to get back to my neighborhood, and then insisted that I go back in his personal SUV. He then escorted me down to the mapping department and made sure I got the right maps and introduced me to his driver. I do hope some day (not forty years from now as I said to him) that I would get the opportunity to reciprocate his hospitality. So I got into the shiny new SUV and the driver weaved his way through the rush hour traffic, with me sharing my taxi chat in Amharic of "That was close!" "He's crazy!" and "Watch out!" He appeared to be amused.
Once home I took a long nap and later joined Phil and Daniele for a quiet pasta dinner at the Millennium Hotel.
Much of what I'm accomplishing here is the product of good planning and amazingly good luck. Transactions in Ethiopia can still be very bureaucratic, with at least three stops on the way and then three stops back. If one encounters a barrier, it can take a long time to resolve, and for the uninitiated the experience can be very frustrating. I am doing well, even beyond my expectations. Tomorrow I'll laze about the apartment, make some phone calls and do my final phase of planning.
Today was very relaxing. I took a morning shower. Had breakfast with Phil and Daniele. They both had early morning appointments but Daniele expected to be back for lunch. Our apartment keys are very modern and cannot be easily duplicated so as I type this I am effectively locked in, but I am not afraid! I did the breakfast dishes and then composed yesterday's journal report.
Phil came back about 11 am, earlier than expected, and with all his audio-video equipment that had been held up at Customs, He is much happier! Daniele then came back from the American International School up the block with confirmation that she is hired as a part-time teaching aid; she's qualified to do much more but doesn't want to now. She also is quite pleased.
I was able to confirm by phone a lunch/conference with John Graham, the Ethiopia travel writer and now US-AID staff person for next Monday, which gives me some more things to think about. I took another walk around the neighborhood, shot some discrete pictures, ordered some additional horn glasses from the Gurage shop up the street, "exactly like my sample." We shall see. Walking back I took one of the back streets and found it lined with compounds with iron gates guarding expensive looking houses. I shot some pictures of the flowers and trees. It is amazing how close the rich and poor continue to live here. I almost got a shot of a frisky young cat on a wall and my Ethiopian cat-call got his attention, but he disappeared when I reached for the camera. The only other feline I've encountered was an old tomcat who after being called carefully inspected my hand to determine if it were edible (decided it wasn't). However, he seemed quite happy to have his head scratched. Then he bid me good-bye and resumed his patrol.
Now I'm back at home base and it looks like a quiet evening.
For dinner we walked up the street and then right through a construction zone (in the dark) until we reached a new hotel that caters to the Chinese who are working here in Ethiopia. There are some 20,000 Chinese in the City alone involved in major construction projects such as road building, industrial development, and energy exploration. The restaurant at the hotel was certainly more of a challenge than the old China Bar. No English was spoken by the wait staff (Chinese) and no Ethiopian! It was more like trying to order at a restaurant in China itself! We finally pointed to some lovely pictures on the menu and hoped for the best. The first dish than came was steamed Chinese cabbage with garlic and it made a nice appetizer. The second course can only be described as whole fried chicken run through a chop saw by a madman; splinters of bone everywhere. The beef and vegetable course then arrived and it was exceedingly spicy; I was delighted but Phil and Daniele could only manage it with quantities of rice. Still, I'd love to go back with someone who speaks Mandarin and see what the options really are.
Each city probably has a characteristic sound, traffic roar in Brooklyn with a few emergency sirens and screams to punctuate the symphony. Here in Addis Ababa, from my 4th floor bedroom, I've noted loud contemporary Ethiopian music from 9 to midnight emanating from the hotel bar next door. Next comes what I can only describe as the canine anthems, which build up slowly to a massive crescendo, punctuated by an occasional escalating yelp as one poor cur pleas for mercy. Now and then there are modern sounds such as a jet plane landing or taking off or a heavy lorry making its way around the traffic circle and then slowly up the road. Around 4 am the roosters begin their anthems and the dogs subside. The next movement is the 5:30 am electronically amplified calls from the mosques and churches. The final movement is the construction activity beginning anew on the next block over. Another day has dawned!
Today began as usual with the roosters, the church and mosque competition, followed by work beginning anew at the construction site below my window. Have I described the construction site yet? It's gonna be another large building, ten stories of more, designed for use by the Libyan Embassy. They're just progressing above the ground floor. There are about 70 construction workers on site, 10 of them women. Much of the work is done by hand, with a few machines for mixing cement and lifting heavier slabs. It's like watching a beehive, but now tasks are beginning to assume patterns. A lot of scaffolding here is done with eucalyptus poles, even for higher buildings. OSHO would not approve, but OSHO or its local equivalent is nowhere to be seen.
I spent the morning reorganizing and typing up yesterday's journal. Then Phil and I went out for lunch at the Samay Restaurant, this time for a traditional Ethiopian serving of "doro wat" (spicy chicken stew) This is the first time since I've been here that I've eaten excellently prepared Ethiopian food and I was beginning to think that it only persisted in Portland, Maine.
We then walked back toward the apartment and I split off to try our neighborhood internet café to post yesterday's journal. Alas, the machine would not recognize my thumb-drive and I had to make a much abbreviated post. But the service is available for $1 US an hour and the manager is quite pleasant.
I then decided to explore the area south of our apartment building, down by the river; it looked interesting from the Goggle Earth view. So I continued walking down the main road, passed the rotary, and proceeded down toward the river. Well, first there appeared some nice houses behind high compound walls, then more modest houses, and by the time I neared the river it was only slum shacks. A rickety footbridge provided further access across the river for the daring and agile. I decided to head back up the hill, take a shower, and relax!
This evening we returned for dinner at the Millennium Hotel, another course of pasta washed down with Castel Beer.
This has been a quiet day of pottering around, followed by reading Dr. Muluneh's dissertation thesis on the Gurage. Muluneh has accomplished some very interesting work and I look forward to discussing that with him Tuesday afternoon.
Phil called in that he has safely arrived in Beirut where he is attending a conference..
Daniele and I plan to share dinner at the Family Restaurant up the street, a restaurant with an eclectic menu that ranges from Mexican, to Italian, to Ethiopian.
Tomorrow is a National Holiday commemorating the defeat of the Italians in 1898 at the Battle of Aduwa.
The highlight of this day was my meeting with John Graham, the author of the travel book ETHIOPIA: Off the Beaten Path. We meet for lunch at The Family Restaurant up the road. I was there first but John soon came in the door and figured out that I was the one who called him. John has lived in Ethiopia for more than ten years with his family, working for Save the Children but now he has shifted over to US AID. I generally like his sense of humor, as revealed in his travel descriptions and we got on well. My intent was to lure him out to the Gurage Country. He was quite impressed with my maps and photos and the fact that there were a couple of decent hotels for visitors to stay at. But I had to admit that Emdeber isn't quite set up for "eco-tours." Certainly people could drive out, admire the countryside, purchase some pottery and other crafts at the markets but there are no horses to rent, and no guides trained to take tourists to the sacred groves and other interesting sites away from the main roads. But someone could make it work and it would provide a set of local service jobs; tourists who wanted a more intimate cultural experience could certainly get one. John is now in the process of editing his updated version of his Ethiopian travel book and I look forward to seeing it.
This evening Daniele and I returned to the Millennium Hotel for a dinner of stir-fried chicken and vegetables.
Today I have several missions to wind up. I plan to pick up some more horn goblets, if they've arrived. I have an appointment with Dr. Muluneh at the Geography Department to meet his student, the one I am donating my laptop to. I also need to touch base with the cell-phone company and make sure my phone is still operational for the trip home. And I have a list of CD's by Ethiopian contemporary singers that I'd like to find and bring back to the States.
There were no surprises, everything went off as planned. I met the Geography graduate student, Mulatu G., who's from the eastern half of the Gurage Country; he was delighted to provide a home for my laptop computer and we spent some time checking out the back-up CD's and cables. Then we all had tea and coffee together at the University cafeteria.
I then went off for lunch at the China Bar, stopping off on the way at another souvenir shop where I found a set of horn glasses to accompany my horn goblet. After another fine lunch I paid a follow-up visit to Sam-I-Cellphone. The cellphone staff were as perplexed as I about what my local chip was doing. But they re-installed my regular chip, and we wished each other well. I then ventured over to the local shopping mall where I'd seen a music store and picked up CD's by two of Ethiopia's best known contemporary singers, Aster Aweke and Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw.
Finally, I ventured again into the NIB Foreign Exchange Bank and converted some more traveler checks into Ethiopian currency to take care of a few missions which will have to be completed after I leave; I'll be counting on Phil to do that.
Today I begin my major packing and in the early evening Girma is scheduled to run me out to the airport to catch my flight.
Girma showed up at our apartment building at the appointed time and I arrived very early at the international airport and actually had to wait half an hour before I could check my luggage and get my boarding pass. However, an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, Abba Mathias, was also there early and we introduced ourselves to one another and became close travel companions all the way to Boston. Abba Mathias is the head priest for the Ethiopian community resident in Brookline, Massachusetts. After checking our luggage we went through the security check-in and then off for supper at a small restaurant. It's a good thing we had a good supper because the airline food is really quite awful. We did get another chance in Frankfurt, Germany, to dine well, during our 5 hour layover. As we were waiting at various "way stations" along the way we swapped such truisms as "the watched kettle never boils" and "the watched egg never hatches." But really the flight back while long and tedious was quite smooth and when we arrived in Boston I was happily amazed that the U.S. Customs official just waved me through after asking a couple of brief questions, no luggage inspection at all; I must not fit their profile of an "international terrorist." Within 30 minutes my bus back to Maine came in and two hours later I was in my van heading home to Richmond.