Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Week in Addis

Leaving the orphanage, I took Abi to the guesthouse where we both took a long nap.  I expected her to be scared, but she loved all the staff (the feeling was entirely mutual) and loved exploring her new surroundings. 

Because she was so hesitant walking around, I gave her the kiddie cane I'd brought for her and showed her how to use it.  She understood right away what it was for, and understood that she could use it to walk around by herself, so she LOVED it!  We had so much fun, I forgot to take very many pictures.

On Tuesday, we went to the American embassy building.  It had been closed for the holiday the day before, so the lines to get in were unusually long.  We stood next to families scented with hopefulness, under a television screen with idyllic scenes of American life, like the Statue of Liberty and small children with balloons. Officious-looking Ethiopian security guards in uniforms stood everywhere.

One of the rules at the embassy was that you had to check your cell phone and camera. Obviously, I have no pictures of our visit there, but I remember sitting in a large, crowded waiting room with Abi on my lap.  She got bored, and began singing at the top of her lungs, "Leeeeessss, Dzeeezuz Lubs Meeeeeeeeee!" (Yes, Jesus Loves Me) and dropping her LEGOs on the floor.

At last our name was called, and we walked to a window in a row of windows, behind which a blonde American man in his 20's shuffled through my paperwork and asked me a few questions.  The interview took ten minutes.  We'd waited in line almost 2 hours.

While driving around Addis, our driver Yosef was so delighted that I was learning Amharic that he took it upon himself to be my own personal Tutor In Advanced Amharic.  My memories of driving are punctuated with him saying "What is Amharic for pencil? You don't remember? I tell you yesterday. Do you remember Wednesday? Heh-rohb! Very good! Wow, not many Americans speak Amharic."  He insisted I memorize "Mesa Mehbraht Tefellegallech?" (Do you want to eat lunch?), and I discovered upon returning home that this sentence has been handier than any other word besides "shinta-bayt" (toilet).

While we were there, the city geared up for the Holy Day of Epiphany.  All week, workmen climbed poles to hang colorful flags across the streets where the procession of the faithful would pass.  As the Day approached, the traffic became even more crowded than before as people from the country came into the city for the celebration.

Yosef, who is Orthodox, said that he was fasting by eating no meat, only Injera (a crepe-like flat bread) and Shiro-Wat (a red-lentil stew) but no meat. On the Friday of Epiphany, his family would eat Doro-Wat (a spicy chicken stew with a hard-boiled egg in it) to celebrate the Holy Day.

On Wednesday, I shopped in the little "souks" or stalls for souvenirs to take home. Traditional clothes and a "jebena" or coffee pot all found their way into my overpacked suitcase.  I also got some traditional incense to use in a coffee ceremony, although its crystalline appearance caught the attention of the TSA who thought it looked like drugs and slashed it open to check it, where it later filtered all through my suitcase and ruined a shirt.  Good thing we live in a free country where personal property is respected (insert sarcasm here).

Still, it was a fun, strange, week.  Long hours of sitting around at the guesthouse, talking (Ethiopians love to do this), knitting, and getting to know Abi, mingle in a blur with hours of driving in a hot car from here to there amid honking traffic and hundreds of thousands of people walking, walking, walking.  Most people there walk, sometimes for miles, to work or shop, as driving is a luxury only the wealthiest can afford.  Under the warm sun, no one hurried, but just walked.  Some trudged; some walked with a spring in their steps.  Some stopped to browse the shops as they passed, the shops with mannequins held captive against thievery by strings around their necks, or shops selling mattresses piled on the roof, or shops with baskets or bowls or stings of bananas.  On one corner, a foosball table sat in the middle of a patch of dirt, while a group of boys used it for an animated game; an old man with a donkey watched.  We passed a woman in a gray skirt using a pickaxe to dig a hole in the road.  Women with beautifully braided hair held the hands of tiny children in green or purple school uniforms, while older children in the same colors played tag along the sides of the crowded street.

I sat in the cocoon of my hired car and absorbed it all from behind the sheltering pane of glass that kept me forever separate from what I saw and heard and smelled.  I tried to remember every face, every sign, every color, like the shop that sold only blue clothes or the shop that sold "Passion Burgers." I wanted to be able to tell Abi about the place she came from.  I'd like to tell her about the rounded spires of the Orthodox churches and the undulating call of the muezzin as he calls the Muslims to pray.  I'll tell her about the little shoe-shine boys and the green-and-yellow fences and the fluttering silks hanging from the roofs made of corrugated tin.  I'll tell her about the way people would cross the street so close to your car that they would slap your hood as they passed.  Maybe she will be able to see in her mind's eye the image of the old, bent holy men in their while hats and fluttering white robes as they pace along the dusty road in that ancient place. Even if she doesn't remember that city, I will never forget it.

Next post: Farewell coffee ceremonies and a 34-hour "Guzo" (journey) home.

1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying your Ethiopia and Abi posts. Hope these days are going well for you.