See the World Through My Eyes

Posts tagged “Addis Ababa

Theory of a Black Man

Black man country
On the flight to Ethiopia, I meet a friendly gentleman by the name Hakim Geteye. He introduces himself as the mechanical technician on board with over twenty years experience. It is his last day on the job so it’s understandable why he is in a good mood. We talk about airplanes (duh!), the economy, world politics and various other general interest subjects. One subject that especially catches my interest is inequality. I can’t believe it when Hakim tells me to expect racial discrimination in Ethiopia. On probing further, he tells me that quite a number of Ethiopians do not consider themselves African; the reason why they treat fellow Africans ‘differently’. I refuse to believe him. I just can’t imagine my fellow African mistreating me just because I am… Afican! When I get off the plane I am lucky to find a seat in the waiting area at Addis Ababa‘s Bole International Airport. After three hours trying to get comfortable on the hard bench, I decide to have a drink at the restaurant at the far end of the lounge.

It starts with a sneer from the waitress after I motion her over, which I ignore. I choose to assume that it’s not meant for me. I keep calling out to her until at some point I figure she could be deaf [It happens]. So I decide to walk up to the counter and order my drink. As I walk to the front of the restaurant, another customer who has just walked in calls the waitress over to his table. I am astonished when she shoots past me to serve this particular customer. I feel small and angry. Another customer who I assume is Ethiopian, notices the helpless look on my face and decides to help me out in one sentence.

” White people tip, black people don’t”.

Black man at the door.
I have 5 minutes to get to the Hilton. I managed to clinch a deal with some Israelis who want to set up a meat processing plant in the country. Today, they  want to sign off. If this goes well, I could end up with a very good package. I break into a run and I’m at the entrance in no time. This is one business I wouldn’t dare lose. At the door, I am stopped by the security guard who asks me where I’m going. For a moment I pose trying to catch my breath and just as I am about to inform him he nature of my visit, a tour van comes to a halt at the hotel entrance. A group of tourists seemingly European alight from the bus and pass between me and the guard. As if by instinct, the guard scurries off to say jambo and karibu to the new visitors while lowering his hat and clasping his hands together in humility. They ignore his greetings and head to the reception. Mr. ‘Security’ comes back and continues interrogating me on the nature of my visit. I am angry. I glance at myself in the reflection on the floor-to-ceiling windows. Don’t I look normal? I am smartly dressed in a dark suit, black tie and white shirt. WTF (It’s not what you think). Anyway, I ignore his question and empty my pockets of coins and my cellphone as I walk through the metal detector in the foyer. As I pick my items on the other side, the guard ‘kindly’ remarks that that ‘it’s not a must’ that I pick the coins. Why? Because it doesn’t ‘look right’ for a man in such a ‘nice’ suit to walk around with noisy coins. By this time, I am shaking from rage…

Black man cuisine.
This food is dry. I ordered rice and fried beef but i didn’t expect it to come without some gravy. I signal to the waiter and ask for some soup. She politely tells me that they only serve gravy or soup when one has ordered fish fillet or pepper steak. I ask her to then explain how I am supposed to eat such a choking-dry meal. She politely tells me that it’s a management decision and that there is nothing she can do. I am furious.  I then ask her to bring me ketchup, maybe it’ll help. She hands me the ketchup and I proceed to make my food edible. After a minute, I realize that she is still standing there. I smile at her and politely tell her that I am fine. The ketchup will work just fine. She politely responds that she is waiting for me to finish with the ketchup because the management requires her to repossess the ketchup after the customer has had their first squeeze. She takes the ketchup and deposits it at the counter. Does this sound a bit too familiar? Agony is…

Black man justice.
A huge mob has surrounded the bus that been victim to hijackers a few moments ago. The leader of the faint attempt is forced to come out of the bus that is now parked diagonally in the middle of the road by angry citizens. Like a pack of hungry hyenas, they erupt into a frenzy, baying for his blood. The suspect kneels in front of the bus and pleads for his life. The crowd goes wild, and for a moment all one can hear is “Kill! Kill! Kill!”. They have had enough. They start pelting the suspect with stones. Huge stones. One can clearly hear the impact as the stones land on the suspect’s head. For a split second, I witness the suspect’s temple split open from impact. The crowd wants more. Someone in the crowd pleads for mercy on behalf of the suspect. He goes silent when another person accuses him of being a sympathizer. It is sad how frustrated the citizens have become. There is little anyone can do at this point. Part of the key people in the crowd that can change this whole picture are three police officers. Against the requests of civilized by-standers, the three officers refuse to rescue the suspect. Minutes later, the suspect lies dead on the street, his skull crushed underneath a 60 pound stone. No one knows his name or why he’s lying there on the street. A citizen with the same right to life as you and me…

Black man down.
I don’t know when this happened  but I am sad at what we’ve turned into. What makes us not want to be associated with who we are? What makes us treat each other with contempt? We are all to blame. We are quick to smile at foreigners and also quick to judge and condemn our own. Funny, I’ve heard black women wish that they had blue eyes and blond hair. I have seen black people take drugs to lighten their skin. Where did the black pride go? I don’t condemn you. I believe you have your reasons….


Paradox of the Perfect Stranger

There is a small village called Aberer on the shores of Lake Langano in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. It is about 200 kilometers by road in the south of the capital Addis Ababa. In this village there lived a young couple who loved each other very much, atleast that’s what everyone knew.

The young man’s name was Kefela, a local fisherman. Orphaned at an early age, he had learned to work and depend on the sweat of his brow to survive. He had learned the ways of the world by trial and error. He grew into a man of character and virtue. He was honest, reliable and always kept his word. All the children in the village were his friends and almost all young women, his secret admirers [for it is in wrong in traditional Ethiopian culture, for a woman to publicly show interest in a man].

He had met Nazret (his lover) in the fish market five years earlier. She was this calm, composed and gracefull in her stride. She had a long neck, shapely and tall physique that amplified her confidence. Flawless skin and neatly arranged teeth behind her sunrise smile. She was very beautiful.

Kefela had known many beautiful women but Nazret beat them all.  A ‘bird’ had told him that she (Nazret) had been from a violent relationship. The culprit, a man from the neighbouring village of Geret.  Kefela worked hard to win her heart and they became lovers. Their love was like no other. They basked in each other’s company. Kefela made her laugh and she cared for him like a child. Everyone in the village acknowledged that this love had been made in heaven. They used to go everywhere and do everything together. When they had be spend time apart, each would suffer a serious heartache and often become physically weak. They felt like they would die without each other. Atleast this was the situation according to Kefela.

You see the Langano happens to be the only fresh water lake in Ethiopia that is free of Bilharzia or Schistosomiasis. This makes it a very popular destination for tourists. People come from all over the world to see it’s magnificence and wallow in its splendour.

One day as Nazret was going to the market she was greeted by this white man who introduced himself as Rob. From her limited command of english she understood that he was asking her out on a date at the expensive italian restaurant by the lake. Rob told her he found her beautiful and that he wanted to marry and take her with him to his country in Europe. A simple request, yet it troubled Nazret for many days. Not because she was interested in what Rob had to offer but the fact that he came off as different and curiously interesting.

In the days that followed Nazret met him several times. She was intrigued by the tales of  his visits to distant lands [She had wanted to travel and see the world at some point in her life]. The way he treated her was also different. It was delicate and caring. He opened doors for her. He would serve her and ask her every now and then how she was doing. It was something she had never experienced before.

Back at home, Kefela had noticed a change in her behavior. He missed spending time with her and couldn’t understand why everything had changed suddenly. He wanted to raise the issue but was afraid that he would look insecure. They used to talk and laugh late into the night but of late Nazret was always ‘tired’. He started blaming this twist of events on himself. Could it be that he was working too hard that Nazret had started feeling neglected? Or had she grown tired of his promises that one day he would take them out of poverty? He had been saving up for a year to take her to Addis for a picnic. Had she grown tired of waiting? Then it hit him hard. Maybe Nazret was seeing another man! His stomach twisted into painful knots.

He was almost sure his fears were about to be confirmed. The way she was behaving lately was abnormal. They used to make love every night but now it had gone down to once a week. She was ever ‘tired’. He decided to wait it out a while for Nazret to reel back from her trance. After a week he decided to confront her.

Meanwhile, Rob and his newfound ‘friend’ were enjoying each other’s company. They had too much to talk about on almost every subject. Every now and then, Nazret couldn’t resist feeling guilty for not being there for Kefela, but she couldn’t help it. One day in the middle of a joke, Rob leaned and kissed her. She tried resisting but gave in a few seconds later. It was the most sensual thing she had ever experienced. Not that she didn’t like how Kefela kissed but this was a kiss from a person who was experienced. One would welcome a change of diet every once in a while.

That night when she got home, she found Kefela waiting in the dark. On asked where she had been all day, she replied rather rudely that she wasn’t a child and that she was safe where ever she was. Kefela was deeply hurt and decided not to pursue the matter further. A week later, he got home and found her gone.

Kefela still wakes up early to fish.He has his own boat now and business is looking great. He bought a piece of land along the lake shore and is planning to put up a lodge when he saves up enough money. Life is great.  He also has a new bride whom he married from the hill country of Selah Dingay. The love they share is magical. Last month he took her for a picnic in Addis, this December he is planning to take her to the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

How about Nazret? Well, Rob didn’t take her to europe as he had promised. He left her stranded in Addis Ababa after he excused himself to make a ‘phone call’. She was pregnant with his child at the time. She has not seen him (Rob) since. Yesterday she got her first pay of 10 birr. The man she serviced made her do things which made her sick to her stomach. Times are hard. With a young child at home, who can blame her?

The grass will forever be green on the other side of the fence. A bird in hand will always be worth much more than the beckoning commotion in the bush. Are we content with what we have? Did you at some point wish you were born in your rich neighbor’s family? Do you wish you were lighter in complexion than you really are? What brats of a generation we are! But again, life is meant to be lived right?

So today as you call your man, ask yourself if you’re with him in the meantime  as you wait for the perfect stranger. Ask yourself why you keep stringing this innocent girl along with the plan to hit on her best friend.

Have you met the perfect stranger yet?

I thank Mr. Yonas whom I met in the airport as we waited to board the flight to Ethiopia last December. A complete stranger, he told me that the most romantic place in the world that I could take my woman happens to be Lake Langano. I appreciate how you were patient enough to explain to me in detail the culture of the beautiful people of Ethiopia.

In the same breath I would like to dedicate this article to my dear fellow writer Carol. You wanted to hear my thoughts on this issue so there you have it.

stranger |ˈstrānjər| |ˈstreɪndʒər| |ˈstreɪn(d)ʒə|noun a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar.