Random Ethiopia Thoughts

1) Amharic is beautiful. The first thing that made me curious about Ethiopia was the Ethiopian Airlines logo– Amharic characters below the English, looking like little dancing wire figures.

(I would put an image here but I can’t download any pictures, as three people are sharing one pay-as-you-go internet stick. Please go see the Wikipedia page

The spoken language also has a weird beauty, full of stops and starts and humming N’s and trilling R’s, throaty without being guttural, if you can imagine that. Hearing a conversation between women is like listening to tropical birds.

A few little words I’ve managed to learn:

Selemno– “Is it peaceful?” (ça va?)

èshh– “OK.”

Dèèèh?! (rising intonation)- “Really?”

(short gasping sound, as Europeans might make to express surprise)– “Yes? I’m listening, go on”

Brrit, brrit!– “Here kitty kitty.”

2) For my remaining time in Ethiopia, I’m sticking to Ethiopian food for lunch and dinner. If it doesn’t have injera, pickled vegetables or curry, I am not eating it. each time I’ve succumbed to the temptation to have foreign food here–soup or pasta– it has either tasted like solid pepper or warm glue. Ethiopian food has flavour…

3) I won the Ethiopian National Lottery today! Mahi bought two scratch-off bingo lottery tickets and gave me one, and the one I had was worth 30 birr (1.50)! Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough for a modest restaurant meal, or four or five coffees. Trouble is, no one we know has won before, so we don’t know how to claim a prize. Mahi says it’s an omen, and I ought to stay in Ethiopia. Hmmmm…

4) The rather unpleasant experience of having only two books to last me nearly 3 months of African travel has tempted me to cave in and buy an e-reader. The idea of either buying an outrageously overpriced book (400 birr) or sitting on a transatlantic flight with nothing to read but the Canadian Press Stylebook fills me with dread. Mom has been telling me I should get an e-reader. Nick lent me his for a few days, and I really like it. I could have loaded a dozen books on an e-reader and not lacked reading material for my whole time in Africa. But let’s review my horrible record with all things technological– iPod fried by Russian wiring, one camera dead, another lost and returned to me in pieces, another with a weird lens problem, iPad stolen, one laptop fried by Burundian wiring, another stolen from a double-locked, barricaded third-floor apartment and a third bought for a song but with an increasingly long and exasperating set of problems. I think any attempt at getting an e-reader for me would just end in lost money. Not to mention, e-books can’t be lent out, given away, autographed, highlighted, underlined, post-it-noted, arranged on a shelf…you know. Some of the magic is lost.

5) At the house that Nick, Mahi and the British guy are renting, there’s a gateman, a skinny middle-aged man called Abebe who speaks only Amharic. In addition to being a security guard, he takes care of the dog. He lives in a corrugated tin shack by the gate– although it’s actually quite cozy in there; I glanced past him inside it once and saw a bed covered with warm blankets and a bare but bright lightbulb illuminating colourful Coptic paintings. Mahi and Nick don’t talk to him much; I always wave but of course I can’t say a word except ‘selemno’ (ça va?). He probably sends his salary to his wife and kids in some deprived rural area. I don’t think he has it too bad off, but I can’t help wondering how a dignified, middle-aged père de famille like Abebe feels about being ordered around by a few 25-year-olds.
Terence and Daniel, the men-of-all-work at my building in Bujumbura,cook the omelets, iron the shirts, hang the mosquito nets, run the errands, wash the cars, clean the rooms, water the plants, and handle security, which includes getting up from their beds (piles of blankets on the cold, hard tiles of the front terrasse) to let in drunk people in or early fliers at three or four in the morning. They speak only Kirundi. I can’t believe I haven’t written about them before. They taught me Kirundi and I taught them French, through a complicated system of gestures. They also walked up the street to pick up my airtime and lemon soda at the end of long workdays when I was too lazy to walk a quarter mile myself. They had no health care and sent their salaries to their families (Daniel has two wives and nine children). Either of them could have been my father, and yet I was sending them up the road to get me a cold drink.
They both became like fathers to me, we would share a beer and cluck over each other’s small misfortunes, and on the day I left they both held me by the shoulders as I tried to keep from weeping…but I wonder, did either of them ever have the urge to tell me, “get your own damn minutes?”

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About msmarguerite

Young Quebec City-based freelance journalist. once and future nomad. I blog about life, about travel, about things I notice and every so often about work. I enjoy language learning, singing, swing dancing, skating and...other stuff, sometimes. My heart is somewhere in East Africa, Haiti or Eastern Europe. English, français, русский, malo slovensko, un poco de espanol, um pouco de português ndiga ikirundi, mwen ap aprann kreyòl...
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