Singing for survival

Have you ever got yourself in a tricky situation on holiday?

Ordering what you’re assured is a vegetarian dish and finding a whole chicken foot at the bottom of your soup (my trip to Ecuador 1997). Or deciding to take a risk on the menu and getting what appeared to be a piece of dried green lasagne and a caviar-type substance (Laos 2001). How I envied my friend with his safe order of tuna sandwich!

This was slightly better that the trout’s head I was served in what was supposedly an American diner (Japan 2004).

Vivid memories of fighting to get in a toilet cubicle in China in 2000 with dozens of women pushing and shoving me forward also stay with me!

But all of these pale in comparison to the time I was held on an Ethiopian river bank waiting for the guide to pay what could only be described as a ransom.

I was on a trip to visit the tribes of Ethiopia in 2005 – an interesting trip. Their aim was to attract the tourist dollar, so they were making us welcome in return for that
all-important hard currency.

Men talking - one holding a gunIt was on a standard tour of this particular tribe’s village that my adventure began. The local policeman suddenly and suspiciously disappeared and men with guns arrived. I found myself separated from the others, standing on a river bank surrounded by lots of children. Our exit was to cross the river on board a boat that had also strangely disappeared. Things were getting tense.

What did I think to do? Keep calm? Plan my exit route? Write my last will and testament? No.

For some reason I started singing ‘Ging Gang Goolie’ – bearing in mind I can’t sing and this was the only song I knew the tune and words to.

I can say with all honesty that this is probably not the usual Westerner’s response. I base this on the fact that the children all stopped asking for sweets and Highland (the bottled water) and just stared. At me. I became conscious that all I could hear was me – singing.

The men with guns also stopped. And stared.

To this day I can’t say for sure that my rendition of ‘Ging Gang Goolie’ did save the group but we were allowed to leave a few minutes later. And the guide still had the contents of his wallet.

I’d like to think that somewhere in Ethiopia, children still tell the story of the weird white woman while they sit around the campfire. Maybe they even remember some of the words…

Giselle Sterry

About Giselle Sterry

I live happily with my supportive partner having spent several years enjoying my travels. A few years ago I discovered the enjoyment of bird watching (but I am no twitcher!). I can be found on a weekly basis at the local pub quiz or volunteering with local wildlfe groups.

  • Mandy Clark

    Oh that is a fantastic story. Reminds me of the time I stabbed a man through the tent with a knife. It was more like a prod in the hand but the things we do when threatened make you wonder.

    I love ordering food from overseas menus when you are not quite sure what it is. BBQ chicken hearts have been the only thing I couldn’t eat – too rubbery.

    Great story, thank you.