Sorry for the absence of posts lately. A combination of toddler mania, high altitude, overly emotional experiences, and an unidentified allergic reaction to mysterious bug bites have rendered me incapable of making sense of anything in meaningful words.
It’s hard to believe we only have one more week here. Today I found myself taking photos of the neighborhood where we’ve been living. It isn’t until the end of trips that I start photographing things I see every day. Until then I take these things for granted. The street signs that are sponsored by Pepsi. The cows that graze next to a makeshift volleyball court. The cafe down the street where we sip macchiato.
I can already say that our first week here was much different than this last week will be. Our first week prepared us for the general way things happen here: expect the unexpected. Or just have no expectations other than that you’ll stop for macchiato on the way.
Our first day here included a missed visa line, the confiscation of video cameras in customs, a trip to the Swedish Embassy’s clinic for a small medical procedure, and a 2-hour flat tire. (Bringing the video cameras into the country would have required an unobtainable letter from the Ministry of Information. Does this sound like Addis or Hogwarts?)
The following morning someone asked, in all seriousness, “When did we get here?”
Now I can say that you know we’ve been here a long time when there is both a newly adopted child and a newly adopted puppy living in our guesthouse. Yes, we rescued a puppy in Addis. His name is Michel Bob. He lived at Kolfe, a government orphanage for older boys. And now he’ll live at the guesthouse, where we’re sure he’ll add many years to the landlord’s life.
While I was taking photos today, I started talking to three businessmen who live in this neighborhood. They told me they were glad that I was here and hoped that I would give people the full picture of Ethiopia when I return to America. Yes, there is much poverty, they said. But there is also much success and prosperity.
That is the mystery of this place to me. Driving around Addis my eyes are glued to the window, even after a month here. The things I see are so foreign to me that I still haven’t absorbed everything. A gargantuan mansion with beggars outside the gates. Donkeys being led through intersections while kids sell tissues to passing cars.
To some extent, poverty and wealth exist everywhere in the world. But they’re so close together and so far apart here. There’s something extreme about it that’s hard to put your finger on. Something very wrong about the vital aspects of your life or death that are determined solely by where you are born.
I wish I could find a way to adequately explain the good and bad of this country. The three businessmen would like me to start by making sure you know that no one lives in trees here. They were not the first Ethiopians to tell me that they’ve encountered Americans who think this. Our driver has encountered this so many times that he says his tree is the 12th one on the left from Bole Airport.
It is difficult to reconcile the good and the bad, though.
Today I learned how to make shiro. In our beautiful neighborhood. And we visited the local park.
Yesterday we visited Kolfe for the third time. We heard stories of loss that shouldn’t be possible in 2010.
At this point I’ll refer to the first paragraph to remind you that I still can’t make sense of all of this. Maybe I never will. And maybe that’s the point.