There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
Addis Ababa is many different cities to many different people – the rich, the poor, men, women, locals, foreigners, the diaspora, those born in the city, and those from the provinces. Fickle Addis defies generalization. It is reliably inconsistent. One sees too many luxury amenities to call it poor, too many wretched beggars to call it wealthy; too many easy smiles to call it mean, too many menacing glares to call it friendly; too many courtly bows to call it impolite, too much street boorishness to call it respectful; too much public affection to call it cold, too much impunity and indifference to call it compassionate; too much hope and joy to call it miserable, too much despair to call it happy; too much fraternity and piety to call it selfish, too much opportunism and greed to call it generous. Xenophobia and hospitality live side by side. There is a justifiable feeling of deep pride in Ethiopia’s rich culture and glorious history, but also a bitter resentment and shame in the poverty and wars that have ravaged the country.
“So here is our little family-tribe going along searching for nourishment, when it suddenly comes across another family-tribe. What a significant movement in the history of the world, what a momentous discovery! The discovery that there are other people in the world! Until then, the members of these primal groups could live in the conviction, as they moved around in the company of 30 to 50 of their kinfolk, that they knew all the people in the world. Then it turned out that they didn’t — that other similar beings, other people, also inhabited the world! But how to behave in the face of such a revelation? What to do? What decision to make?”
It’s Tuesday evening in Addis Ababa’s garish central Bole neighbourhood. Wealthy, Westernized, and dodgy, Bole is a favourite spot for Addis’s expat population, and my least favourite part of the city. Outside the rainy season is chilly and grey. The sun sets into a funereal sky stained with diesel smoke, droves of begging children aggressively harass anyone who looks like they have money, shoe shiners use their bare hands to polish muck-covered loafers, and bratty rich kids lacing their Amharic with American English sneer at the beggars and snicker at the bug-bitten, sunburned foreigners who are running to the hideous architecture and isolated bubble worlds of their luxury hotels.
It must be an omen from God. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Impossible weather for the subtropics of Addis Ababa in late July, the height of the rainy season. The sun is preciously scarce this time of year, and a chance like this mustn’t be squandered.
I softly tap the keys of the laptop perched upon my thighs, listening to Mahi’s rhythmic breathing on this cool night in Addis. Her wavy Abyssinian hair peeks out from under the covers and a surge of tenderness rolls through me. Love comes in waves like that.
I remember it more like a surreal, misty dream than a real memory.
Seven years ago, I was living in the most beautiful city in the world – Istanbul.
I taught English there after graduating from university in Canada. For a 23 year-old Winnipegger who had never travelled before, the city was impossibly beautiful, like something out of my childhood imagination. I felt like I had stepped into the pages of a forgotten fairy tale.