Chapter 15: Point B
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia…
It’s funny. After nearly three weeks in Ethiopia, home has become the new Point B. I’m not saying it’s been forgotten, but I’ve gotten used to the ebb and flow, give and take, sturm und drang, dust and holler of Ethiopia. It is now my starting point that I leave from to begin something new. In this case, as always, it’s picking up the threads, the reins, of my ‘everyday’ life back home in Minneapolis.
In the dwindling days left here on the Horn of Africa, I find myself longing for the luxuries of home. I would kill for a Chipotle burrito with guacamole right now. Go ahead, name someone you want offed and I will shank them with a spork if you give me one of those tinfoil-wrapped carnitas-stuffed mortar rounds of gastrointestinal goodness. I want to have a beer in the smoky confines of trivia night with my family at BW3’s while making huge gestures and talking loud enough that the whole table can hear me describe what staying in an Ethiopian brothel is like. I want an old white cat to fall asleep in the crook of my leg while I lounge on the couch watching Adult Swim. I want to feel the familiar curves of my girlfriend slide into my arms and the soft touch of her lips against mine right after she whispers “I missed you.”
Even coming back to Addis from our roadtrip is enough to make me realize the simple pleasures in life; how little it takes to be truly happy. A cold beer. A hot shower. Books. A variety of food. Bare feet scrunching up on carpet. After seeing so many people smiling with so much less, how can you not feel happier with your lot in life? This is the point people ask me why I even bother going to Third World countries or doing long wilderness hikes. There’s undeniable joy in the experiences themselves; to see something new, to struggle to reach a view, a town that few have seen, to meet new people and do new things is a delightful assault on all the senses. The spicy smell of berberri, the smooth feel of worn walls in rock-hewn churches, the site of mountain passes stretching beyond the curve of the earth, the chanting of priests, the unique spongy texture of injera.
If for nothing else, I tell friends and family back home, these trying trips make all the other weeks of the year look so much better.
All this is not to say the final days of Buna and Bread were not filled with fun and frolic. Far from it.
Jim and I played tennis on the clay court at the International School his daughters attended. I’d never played on clay before, but quickly took to sliding around on the surface relatively quickly. At least quick enough to split sets with Jim and, hopefully, make him complain to the instructor he’s been taking lessons from.
After a ball went over the fence we paused to catch our breath. This was the first time I really felt the altitude (Addis Ababa one of the highest capitals in the world at 8,300ft). I leaned back to take a deep breath and stared at the bright sun and the low scattered skyline of the city. I stared off around me to try and imprint the moment deep into memory.
“Do you realize,” I said, pointing my racquet towards Jim, “that when we’re 80 and sitting somewhere else on this globe we’ll be able to say stuff like ‘Remember that time we were playing tennis in Addis?’. That’s awesome.”
Jim’s laugh followed me beyond the fence as I went to retrieve a wayward volley. While I was bent down grabbing the ball I noticed a pair of small black eyes contemplating me from the end of a long neck a few yards away.
“There’s a huge tortoise eyeballin’ me here.” I shouted. “Do I run away or play dead? I forget.”
“It’s kind of a pet of the school.” replied Jim. “There’s another one around here that last year’s seniors painted light blue. It looks like a UN helmet.”
Some time was also spent finding goodies to bring back home. I’m not much into collecting stuff, but have found myself bringing back a soccer jersey from every country I’ve visited (with the sole exception being Nepal. So if anyone has any contacts…). Jim and I hit a number of sports stores and roadside stalls where one might be found, but to no avail. A number of shop keepers were embarrassed they had nearly every European jersey, but not the home team.
“Alright,” said Jim pulling along a curb in an older section of town where the ferengi were few and far between. “there’s a local market up those alleys over there. You should be able to find something in one of the stalls. I’ll wait here.”
I jumped out and headed up the narrow stone streets peering at the goods displayed under plastic tarps. One vendor tried to convince me that basketball and soccer were the same thing. Another had a fluorescent yellow puffy jacket, trimmed with the colors of the Ethiopian flag and a big white NAIKE on the back. Another customer said he knew where I could find a soccer jersey, so I followed him a couple blocks away to a small basement shop crowded with all kinds of football kit. Success at last.
“I saw you come out from the alley with that guy and disappear down another alley and thought ‘That’s the last I’ll see of him.’” grinned Jim as he started up the car.
Next stop was a local coffee merchant that Jim knew. The name of the place escapes me, but they were a provider to Starbuck’s. The first inhale upon walking into the place was like strolling through the Pearly Gates of Caffeine. The air was rich with deep, dark coffee aroma. Fresh and earthy. Warm and vaguely chocolately. Even the tall dark wood tables that a handful of local businessmen stood around seemed to emit the aroma.
Jim and I ordered a bunch of coffee beans and enjoyed a stellar espresso while we waited. It rivaled the best macchiatos I’d had in Italy. I bought about 12lbs. of prime coffee beans for something like $20. The drug sniffing dogs in Amsterdam should have fun with that.
We also went out to dinner with a bunch of Melissa’s friends from the embassy to a ‘national food’ restaurant called Fisika. The interior was spacious, but done up to look like a traditional thatched roof hut supported by a huge tree trunk in the middle.
We started with a variety of tej. There was honey-flavored (both filtered and non-filtered) and a dark coffee tinged variety. It was sweet and packed a solid kick. But one that was delivered in a warm velvet-lined boot.
The injera came served on a huge platter that was set atop a woven, birdbath-shaped basket. There were a variety of goodies to scoop up with the spongy bread. Like tripe and kitfo, which was raw beef mixed with hot spices. Only Melissa and I ate that. There was also some type of injera that had been fermented in pots underground until it was the consistency of Play-Doh and had the taste of a fairly pungent cheese served on an old sweat sock.
A tray spewing fragrant tendrils of incense around coffee cups and baskets of popcorn was served after we had eaten our fill. The coffee was hot and strong enough to jump out of the cup, grab your collar, make you grow chest hair and then pull it out. We sipped and snacked while watching a group of dancers and musicians perform a traditional ‘rain dance’.
Melissa and Jim had their housekeeper watch the kids while we were out. When we came back, she was watching ETV, Ethiopia’s only channel. It was hard to turn off. You can learn a lot about a culture by its TV. Which doesn’t speak well for us Americans, but then, that just proves my point.
The highlight was a commercial for St. George’s beer that had Toto’s ‘Africa’ being sung in Amharic. I’m willing to bet Toto never saw any residuals from that.
Jim switched the channel to the Armed Forces Network, which they received thanks to the NASA-sized satellite dish mounted amongst a tangle of barb-wire on their front wall. While the AFN did broadcast the Daily Show (on a 24 hour delay, so it was really the Yesterdaily Show), most of the programming seemed to be professional wrestling. Who knew there were that many competing leagues? And instead of commercials they had these bizarre segments that centered around military issues like adoption or “Thinking about suicide? We can help.”. The strangest were promos that were like Successories posters brought to life. They’d have a bunch of geezers sitting on a park bench when another showed up with some coffee. Then the word ‘Camaraderie’ would appear on the screen and that was it. I bet if you ran it backwards in slow motion it said something like “George Bush is the Second Coming”.
Awwww, I can’t believe this was one of my last nights here. It now seemed like such a short stay. Flipping through the pictures on my digital camera the images already seemed so long ago.
I used their stone-age dial-up interent to check some email and found two important things. First off, Donovan McNabb had f’d up his knee and my chances to make the fantasy football playoffs. Secondly, a project I was doing with Target got the go ahead, so within a week of getting back I would be shooting race cars on a track in Las Vegas.
I guess Point B has shifted.
[Coming Next: Too much kitfo will make you shit mo’ fo’ shizzo.]