The Lion of Judah

Our introduction to Ethiopia? The remnants of a severe flash flood. I previously wrote on the African Caravan’s difficulties traveling through the Northern Frontier District, with the highway system’s fragile ecology.

At last permitted by the Kenyan government to pass through the district, we were in dangerous territory, due to the season’s heavy rains.

Ethiopia was brutalized during the Second World War. The Italian Expeditionary Forces conquered Ethiopia, exterminating thousands upon thousands of its citizens. Government officials, religious leaders, and the intelligentsia were systematic victims of mass murder.

Bombs, tanks, and machine guns destroyed the Ethiopian armies, too much for spears, swords, and stones to match. From the south, the South African and British armies joined together in Kenya, moving north to fight the Italians.

The first venue? To grade the roads, moving their armies through southern Ethiopia. Years later, these were the same roads our African Caravan used.

Sixteen years had passed since the armies moved through the area, and had since become a topographic nightmare. Rains, ill-advised travel, and lack of maintenance had left them almost impassable. Ruts that measured six and seven feet deep meant many of our vehicles had just two wheels on the ground at one time. We could only move a few miles each day.

Exhausting? You bet. Looking forward to the next day? Not exactly! We all wondered if the roads would continue to disappear, and whether or not the roads would continue to get worse.

When we finally reached Addis Ababa, we celebrated Thanksgiving: a November to remember. We also celebrated our arrival in the land of the Queen of Sheba with an audience with the Emperor Haile Selassie, at his palace. I wrote on this experience once before.

Upon entering, we saw live, chained lions on either side of the staircase leading to the entryway!

In the Emperor’s formal reception hall, he greeted each of us individually. He spoke to adults through an interpreter, and to one child in English. This was the man, a symbol for his people. pleading with the League of Nations for help extricating the Italians from his nation.

Daily, we watched in awe when the palace guards would walk the palace lions through our campsite on the royal racetrack. When word came down that the Emperor had accepted our invitation to meet the Wally Byam African Caravan, our hoses, ladders, soap, rags, and brooms were put to immediate use.

Wow, did our Airstreams sparkle. The Caravanners stood by their homes proudly. The royal entourage went from trailer to trailer greeting each owner, visiting the exteriors of several trailers.

The final stop for Haile Selassie was a long meeting with Wally Byam in his trailer. This is what dreams were made of.

When headlines later announced that Haile Selassie had been murdered, regardless of political motives we felt struck by sadness. Wally Byam believed the Caravans were a way to spread goodwill, to connect people regardless of political affiliations, economic backgrounds, or cultural differences. So the memory and image of this human will always be remembered.

Dale “Pee Wee” Schwamborn has silver in his blood. Each week, Pee Wee shares one of his many stories, including his experiences on the iconic Airstream Caravans, his time spent working in the Airstream factory, and the many Airstreamers he’s befriended, far and wide.