Looks like the town is a dusty cross-roads.
"Shashemene - Rasta Dreams, Junctions, and Cross-roads at the Great Ethiopian Rift Valley"
Shashemene has always been a town for the restless; the kind who could not stay at a place long enough to discover the beauty of a place. As a junction not only on the Addis - Nairobi road, but also on the Addis - Goba, Addis-Arba Minch roads, Shashemene has a developed a unique character. Cheap restaurants, motels, and a 24-hour active sex-trade work force keep the town humming in Kremt and Bega. The town has always played a 'support role' to the more beautiful towns of Awassa, Welayita Sodo and Wendo-Genet (the paradise hill station in the Great Ethiopian Rift Valley).
But things seem to be changing slowly - even for Shashemene - as the Rasta community that suffered through the Mengistu years seems to be regaining its vigor and zeal. The richest sheikh on this side of the Red Sea - Sheikh Al Amoudi - has also bought a farm near Shashemene and is experimenting growing wheat and Teff. The Sheikh's vision reminds us the vision of the late Ato Bekele who built his trademark hotel in Shashemene more than 30 years ago. The EPRDF people seem very confused on what to do with Shashemene. Many years ago (about 5 years ago...to be precise), the town of Sodo further south had confused Meles and his ethno-centrists because not only the Sedama but also the Welayita people inhabit the place. The EPRDF people with their loyal cadres and officials decided to create a new language - a language that is in between Sidama and Welayita and even gave it a name - something like Welango. It is an incredible story of an attempt to re-invent Ethiopia. So, for a town like Shashemene where Sidamas, Oromos, Amharas, Gurages, Hadiyas, and numerous others trade with other, the politics of economy seems to be much stronger than anything else.
A trip to Shashemene will be - of course - incomplete without dropping by the Rasta community. As we drove to the Rasta village, we passed by Sheikh Al Amoudi's new farm (the joke is that among the wheat and teff farm of the Sheikh, grass of a different kind - more potent than Qhat - may be growing). A first impression is that of the Jamaica hills without the humidity. The beautiful and well-kept farms, gardens, and numerous houses reminded us that we need to allow more of our Caribbean brothers to immigrate to the land of their choice - the African Zion.
To the brothers who welcomed us there and honored us with the most enlightening conversation on that rainy afternoon at the Rasta village, we extend our sincere regards. By the way, the smoke from the incense burner - you assured us it was incense - made us feel weird all the way to Addis.