Nabil and the Injera
Posted by Cris on March 10, 2007
Nabil is a man we met through Trevor, our boss at Windsor English School. He is a business man, in the most basic sense of the word. He chases anything that will make him a buck. Trevor claims to have tried to strangle him before, because Nabil was cheating him on some prices for something. Nabil has his hands in anything and everything: importing laptops from Dubai, used copiers from Italy, smuggling money into Djibouti (his dad spent 7 years in prison for something related to this), running an office supply business, importing luxury house furniture from the Middle East, and who know what else. He is the one who called the Djiboutian Ambassador on his personal cell phone, while he was in a meeting, to get us visas to Djibouti after Djibouti had stopped issuing visas to people coming through Ethiopia.
The day we got our visas, I made the mistake of giving Nabil our cell phone number. He called us 5 times in two hours, until I turned the phone off because I was tired of talking to him. He was calling to ask us this: could we bring a bag of injera to his friend in Djibouti when we went. Injera is the bread that is eaten with everything here- like a sourdough crepe, but huge. Made from teff, a grain, it is the staple food here. And, evidently, mostly unavailable in Djibouti because there is no teff there. So we said yes. He helped us get our visas, so we could bring some injera to Djibouti for him.
The next day, Nabil and his friend Sharif picked us up to go to the airport. They first took us and bought us tea, a nice gesture. Then we went to the airport to meet the man bringing us the injera. The “bag” of injera Nabil aked us about had turned into two big duffle bags, each with 100+ pieces of injera inside! This is the point where we began to feel uncomfortable. It looked like a drug deal out of the movies: we pull up, the injera man throws the duffle bags in the trunk, Nabil shakes his hand and we pull away. Then they took us out for breakfast, again not letting us pay. I asked Sharif, “So Sharif- the injera is for the family we give it to, or is it for their restaurant?” He says it is for the family’s restaurant. When he goes to the bathroom, I ask Nabil the same question. “Oh, the injera is for the family” he says. My investigative senses were telling me that their stories didn’t match- a bad sign. We finished breakfast, and headed to the airport.
I imagined cocaine hidden between the pieces of injera. Or money. Or weed. Anything that it could have been was bad. Or maybe it was more complex than that: the cocaine was baked into the injera, so as to be harder to detect. The family, on the other side, would soak it in a special solution to extract the cocaine, then sell it. Could drug sniffing dogs smell cocaine baked into injera? Do drug sniffing dogs exist in Ethiopia or Djibouti? Djibouti is a port city, so maybe. Damn, I didn’t want to go to jail for smuggling cocaine.
“Nabil” I asked, “Do you think we could put a book or two in the duffle bags, so save us some room in our bags?” This was my brilliant plan to get a look in the bags before we went into the airport. He said yes, so we looked in them and yeah, it looked like just injera. When they drove away, leaving us alone with the injera, we looked deeper. No obvious contraband inside. Of course we couldnt see the cocaine baked into the bread, but at this point I figured if they were that clever we probably wouldnt get caught, so I didnt really care.
Security: clear. Nothing on the xrays. We feel pretty good, and get on the plane.
In Djibouti, I come out of Immigration to see a man with a badge standing next to the bags. My heart rate doubles as he says, “Mr. Cris, are these your bags?” How did he know my name? “Yes,” I replied. This is it, I thought. Were done for. “Ok. Anteneh (the man picking us up in Djibouti, who also knows Nabil) is outside, he sent me in to carry your bags for you.” Whew- he is not the police, just a porter.
Anteneh takes the bags, puts them in his truck, delivers us to the hotel, and leaves. Were the injera laced with cocaine? Were there dollar bills folded between some of the pieces of bread?
We will never know.