a month of living dangerously


two worlds, two christmases


 christmas eve (6 january) in addis ababa is full of the same joy, reverence, anticipation and merriment experienced 11 days ago with family in north carolina. a world apart, people are the same. one human family

 we are the same despite a vast difference in the physical features of the earth we inhabit. in terms of cityscapes and landscapes, there are two worlds. yet, in observing people there is only one…


 christmas morning, and sunshine is accompanied by a light breeze. on the street people prepare to clean house ahead of feasts, carrying home reed-like grass that is spread on floors as part of the holiday tradition

  in alemtsehay's home a portion of a lamb carcass lies on the living room floor to become a part of the holiday dinner. it is custom to buy, kill and consume a lamb or cow on christmas

  i witnessed this lamb being selected from dozens of small herds along a street in a market section of the city. i did not bother to turn my head to watch it hog-tied and thrust in the back of the car in which alemtsehay and i traveled with her brother, safonis

 safonis brought home the lamb yesterday, and their father, misganaw, performed the slaughter this morning. i was spared the act, maintaining refuge in alemtsehay's room

  i have seen more lambs than ever the past few days; and observed more cows on streets, even sidewalks, than i could have imagined before arriving here. it is necessary, i should note, to watch your step when walking about the city

  nothing really prepared me for ethiopia, at least not addis. not even eight days in haiti or as many visits to jamaica over several years; although there are striking similarities. in my first week here, i have come to observe rather than judge

  to fairly assess addis one has to forget normal, or what was, and deal only with what is. the here and now. one has to abandon a western frame of reference, or the social conditioning that comes in so-called developed nations

  questions eventually arise about just what is development? or advancement? there was programming on ethiopian television (etv) moments ago of tourist scenes from dubai. (ethiopia exports many of its young women to dubai, and lebanon, as home servants.)

 from the perspective of being here in ethiopia, the skyscrapers, shopping malls and broad boulevards in dubai that mimic new york or tokyo appear gaudy; out of both time and place. just as the several dozen cases here of recent development aspiring to nearly such verticality and ostentatiousness

  that haiti and to a lesser extent jamaica appear similar to ethiopia despite the separation of oceans and continents suggests the two worlds that exist in physical features should be categorized as "old" and "new" rather than the terms "developed" and "developing"

  for one can only hope the rest of the world is not heading to the state of overdeveloped cities and sprawling, cookie-pattern suburbs as much of the west

 the two worlds that exist are not based merely on geography. (or more precisely it could be said they are purely geographic-based.) the old world can be found in any nation, as i have witnessed in both rural north america and europe

  the old world can be found where time has not moved at such an accelerated pace, or where "civilization" has not spoiled the basic, simple and spartan way of life


first appearances


  coming from new york via frankfurt, on first glance addis appeared to have been leveled by war with inhabitants reduced to living behind drab stone walls and iron gates and under corrugated steel roofs. traveling through the city first brought on a hint of depression, and ponder over why people have to live like this

  then, as in haiti, one loses social conditioning and observes that the old world works. that life is more efficient, if not impressive. moreover, sans les bourgeoise, living here is real and without the pretense or artificiality of popular lifestyles in the west

  there are a vast number of people whose features are hardened, prematurely aged, weather-beaten and back-broken. yet they go about life with a spirit of determination, not hopelessness. rather than resignation, they accept their downtrodden social status with a certain pride doubtlessly rooted in survival. they seem to know, have an identity, of exactly who they are -- herdsmen or farmers -- and are content without comparison to others or even envy

  blindness, crippling disfigurements and other handicaps appear more common here; or it could be that those people simply are forced onto the streets of the capital to beg for a living

  the adage is proven over and again that one cannot judge by appearances. standing in front of stone walls and corrugated steel it is not easy to distinguish between the homes of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. often the elaborateness of gates are giveaways, but one can never really know whose home is being passed while rumbling in a vehicle or on foot over stone or rock-dirt side streets

  only main roads and highways are paved with asphalt; and offices and businesses, often kiosks, line them. most homes are situated along side streets, none of which have street signs. they are literally streets with no names; and addresses are spoken or written directions rather than numbers and names. in the poorest neighborhoods and city outskirts shanties front main streets

  reflecting the world, addis really is two cities. one exists along the main thoroughfares, primarily bole street, where shopping malls and stores selling major-brand items are found. in or near that district are the sheraton, hilton and marriott hotels, as well as chinese, indian and italian restaurants. there, the bourgeoisie goes about acquiring its life necessities from toyota land cruisers or other suv's with air conditioning on and windows up against the acrid air of the city



don't breathe the air


  i've never been to mexico city, but forget los angeles. if there is a city with worst air than addis, then i do not want to visit. much of the pollution stems from vehicles being powered by benzene, a leaded gasoline. that, along with the 20-plus year old lada (polish) cars and toyota trucks that serve as the means of transportation for the masses. trucks here exclusively use diesel fuel, and bellow soot nonstop

  in the other addis, getting around involves hailing a blue-white taxi that you likely will share with other riders, although you can pay extra for the driver not to wait for a full load. or you can pay still less for a ride in a blue-white van that sits 13 including the driver but excluding the boy or young man who hangs out a sliding door that he opens for riders to exit. at each stop he harkens for new riders to maintain maximum capacity. there is no destination sign on the vehicle; he is the soundboard for potential riders -- "bole," "piazza" or "mercardo" (shopping districts in the city)

  as in haiti, the drivers take pride in their vehicles and like poor people everywhere they seek a strong connection with god. like on the caribbean island and probably all nations where people of color predominate, the area where designation signs typically are found on vans and buses is covered with slogans such as "blessed redeemer" and "god is love." in ethiopia, the  messages include the names of popular football teams, for example "arsenal" or "man u" (manchester united)

  addis grows significantly in population during the day, as villagers and farmers from near and far come to sell items ranging from eucalyptus branches and sapling limbs used as firewood (contributing to the air pollution) to collards, cabbage, carrots, etc. the goods typically are carried on the backs of women, or aboard donkeys herded by girls or women or boys or men. lentils, a staple, and heavy grain are transported atop old, dilapidated blue-white trucks that extend the city's private-driven transportation system into the hinterlands

  many orange-gold government buses seating up to several dozen passengers also serve the city, but it is on the government-regulated blue-white vehicles that the city runs. the vehicles double as taxis and private cars for their owners, who include safonis, and maintaining them is a constant that is done with pride. you always see the vehicles with hoods up or someone crawling underneath, but you do not see them dirty or with major body damage


going out of body


 it is now the beginning of my third week here, and perhaps my body is adapting. it has not been easy, because by day three i began experiencing allergies from the polluted air. also, there is an odor first experienced in haiti from people throwing wash-water into the streets in front of their homes or shops to create seemingly open sewers. fortunately, that is rather limited here

  in the city those in abject poverty live directly off the street, in box-like shanties with corrugated-steel doors. they are not prominent, however, being only as noticeable as the homeless who squat and beg near transportation hubs

  children play a significant part in the begging that goes on along major streets in the city -- whether accompanying a handicapped parent or older adult, or acting solo. shoe-shine boys are particularly common and persistent, but they apparently are meeting a need. one cannot walk for long anywhere in the city without shoes becoming discolored by dust and the bottoms encrusted with mud

  yet the greatest annoyance in walking or traveling in a vehicle without air conditioning is the auto exhaust. it cuts through a visitor like a poison, causing noses to run near incessantly and building up in the lungs to produce congestion and coughing. in me it induced an allergic reaction that is difficult to explain for lack of experience

  it has not been a pleasure trip, but more a real-life version of the television reality show "survivor." i sleep only half-nights, or  perhaps the normal schedule i would maintain at home. here, i have to retire when the rest of the house does, as there is no room for me to stay up reading, writing or studying amharic (the official language) without disturbing alemtsehay (who needs rest for her athletic training) or her sister rettiq and brother dawit, both school age (or her father, who spent two weeks here)

  many nights my first two weeks were spent bracing and trying to fortify my body for the onslaught being waged against it by my new environment. trying to build my resistance, and boost immunity beyond the supplements that are being taken religiously

  now after awaking in the middle of the night, i simply go out of body to be with god amid the stars in the heavens; listening to instructions on fulfilling my mission here and beyond

 there is a very defined state of submission, or not being in control. there's no control of anything -- even when i can go to the toilet or take a shower

  for water is fickle here (the wealthy and some of the bourgeoisie have water tanks to keep their homes always supplied. most, like alemtsehay, do not), and is unavailable more than it runs. one seeks to refrain from using the toilet until there is water available to flush it, but when nature calls cannot be denied fortunately my stools have been very modest

  the body is a most adaptable creation, and i am pushing mine just a bit. my first instance of feeling sick came from eating a meal at lunch saturday (13 january). the food was to have been our friday dinner, but alemtsehay, berhanu (a runner-friend) and i had eaten out and the meal prepared at home was stuck in the refrigerator, largely uncovered (i now understand why i occasionally see that phenomenon from alemtsehay and her compatriot friends at home in nyc)

  that afternoon i mostly laid in bed, both to strengthen my body with rest and to have solitude from the humdrum of home life here -- the hissing of a foreign language that i am not exactly easily assimilating into my vocabulary, and similar music or radio/tv programming. volunteer solitary confinement, in which there is only you and god, is a powerful healing force physically, mentally and spiritually

  a sprig that misganaw, alemtsehay's father, advised me to sniff as a herbal remedy also helped me to quickly feel better. the malaise probably also was a result of the discomfort that is constant here, and fatigue from the morning workouts with alemtsehay and her training mates. i probably only needed to be alone, and tune inward to center and regain equilibrium


running takes on a new dimension


  adding to the attacks on my personal biosphere are the daily workouts around and above the city. i fare better in the mountains than in the city. the hills are above the smog and haze, although the 3500 feet altitude can be challenging while walking let alone running. even walking around addis, with a undulating topography much like rome in which a simple turn off a street can send you down several hundred feet, is trekking at 2200 above sea level

  safonis says i will "adapt." alemtsehay said she experienced an adjustment period of underperformance, coughing and fatigue her first two weeks back home. but imagine me trying to keep up with 20something first-division national athletes in running and exercise. sure, alemtsehay keeps up for the most part, but she is no ordinary runner regardless of gender

  running takes on a new dimension here. it's pointless to run on roads in the city, given the vast number of vehicles belching soot, homes burning firewood, the masses of people walking to work and school, the many herds of donkeys bearing loads and lambs being led to slaughter. only outside the city have we run on streets

  the majority of training is conducted over rough terrain in the forests and mountains, but even running at the former national polo grounds in the city is not a smooth ride. the turf there is so uneven that the field is used as a national cross-country course. running requires as much attentiveness to where each footfall lands as the effort required to cover a given distance. and then there is the smog from autos and wood-burning

  the mountains and forests offer a more extreme challenge. running is not merely covering distance, but maneuvering through and around trees and overbrush as well as over rocks and gullies. running here is not meditative; no morning devotion. it takes on near life-and-death proportion, as courses determined at the whim of line-leaders carry you along the edge of deep ravines and cliffs where a misstep will send you tumbling as far as you can see

  today is the second rest day of my stay for alemtsehay and i; with the other being christmas day. the workouts vary from hard 60- to 90-minute fast-paced runs to "easy" 30 minute coursing at a moderate pace through forests and over undulating terrain

 this was an exercise day, and after doing a regimen she did not care for led by an obsessive line-leader last week alemtsehay opted to pass this time. i did not mind the break

  last night was ended at the sheraton addis, using a high-speed internet connect in the hotel business center. the internet cafes scattered about the downtown offer balking connections at speeds slower than the old dial-up america online. but speed comes at the cost of $15 a hour at the sheraton, and about $30 per hour in the hilton. phone calls to the united states have been minimal, both because of poor connections and costs


be your own culture


  i have long maintained culture is personal, rather than group, ethnic or national. mahitima, an ethiopian expatriate friend in new york, once commented that ethiopian culture is so much richer and better than those in the west, including what could be considered an african-american culture. i responded i have no special attraction to the ethiopian culture, that i do not wish to become like them

  i added bluntly, observing him visibly taken aback, that we simply adopt what works best from any given culture around the world in creating a personal culture. that we are not to do things in a given way simply because that's the way it's been done. i insisted we are to constantly adapt -- that by our very nature we are adaptative and we are not to stymie that human development or advancement for the sake of custom, tradition or history. i maintained history only means that something is old, and probably in need of discarding or not repeating

  more than ever i see alemtsehay as a person rather than a culture. she bends or breaks many tenets of mainstream ethiopian society. marrying a foreigner, particularly an african-american, is but one. even in terms of food, i realize that i like alemtsehay's cooking but not necessarily ethiopian food. after i return to new york, it will be a long time before i have ethiopian cuisine again

  part of the culture here is that whenever you visit a home, you are fed. and despite expectations and the suggestions of friends born here and now living in new york, most of the food is no good. i am so sick and tired of eating bad food in other people's home, even alemstehay's because she rarely cooks here, that i have acquired a taste for canned beans and vegetables over rice or pasta. note that the canned goods are not typical of the united states, but flavored middle-eastern or arab-style with tomato sauce and curry

  a writer on a web blog a couple years ago maintained ethiopian cuisine is probably one of the world's least healthy because most everything is cooked beyond recognition. he had a point, noting there is little fresh food. alemtsehay's cooking differs, but based on what i am experiencing here i have to agree with the blogger


just one custom that needs to die


 that alemtsehay does not cook much here reveals a part of the culture to which she subscribes that absolutely clashes with mine. the ego seems to always raise its ugly head in people wanting to be better than someone else, and haiti awakened me to the fact that no matter how "poor" a family is financially it may have a "servant"

  it is an ugly and unholy practice, and when i protested to alemtsehay as we returned from training last week berhanu  defended it as "ethiopian culture." he said the family sees alemtsehay working hard with her daily training as a professional athlete, and wants to do her household chores because she is too fatigued and needs to focus on her money-generating work

  alemtsehay stressed she pays the worker; but i am sure it's a pittance for all the self-degradation involved in the work. in my world, if you have more than you can take care of yourself then you have too much and need to give something to someone else

  "ca-dis! ca-dis!" alemtsehay can be heard calling out from the moment she awakes to when she retires. she calls cadis to have her running attire for the day brought to or sorted in her room. cadis even hands alemtsehay socks and shoes to be worn during the day's training. when alemtsehay returns from training, cadis has fresh juice waiting on the living room table that doubles as the dinner table. soon she brings alemtsehay a porridge that ethiopian runners regard as energy food, a heavy concoction that resembles grains cooked to a consistency of corn-bread batter

  after eating varying amounts of that, sometimes with a fellow runner, alemtsehay takes a nap for an hour or two and awakens to lunch prepared by cadis. lunch like dinner, is always variations of the same

  during the day cadis does alemtsehay's laundry, runs errands and manages the compound, then prepares dinner for the household. her cooking is almost exclusively traditional cuisine, meats and vegetables simmered in onions, spices and oil and served over the sponge-like bread injera that is used to gather and bring food to the mouth instead of the metal fork and spoon utensils in the west

  i tell alemtsehay that in ethiopia she is alem, the family friend and running coach who tormented her with a dictatorial manner and overbearing protectionism when she first arrived in new york. i tell her she orders cadis in the same way that alem is known to attempt with friends in new york

  in his case perhaps it is based on growing up a member of the managerial tygrina tribe that now controls government in ethiopia and eritrea. in hers, it appears to be simply a matter of power and control

  berhanu, alemtsehay's friend and running partner who defended having servants, agreed with my admonishment of her for locking the home refrigerator so rettiq and dawit cannot consume food at will. we told alemtsehay that they are essentially good children, and that trust begets trust. i added they are growing children and need food for energy given all their fun activity in addition to the custom of children helping the servant in taking away dishes after meals and bringing around a pitcher and receptacle so diners can wash hands

  children are disrespected in other aspects of ethiopian culture, such as typically eating after adults and sort of being pushed to the side while grown-ups discuss matters and conduct business. there are times when they are shown off, but most of the time they are to not get in the way


we are the church


  a settling factor in my experience here, particularly during the very early morning when i lay awake in bed for hours, is the mednahalem church a block away. church services are audible in the surrounding neighborhood, and they are held in the early morning on saturdays and sundays as well as other times

  i have not been to church here. but the church has immersed me

  residents flock to the church on saturdays and sundays. they did at christmas and are expected to this week during the observance of timket, or the the feast of the epiphany. the general-population faithful, including alemtsehay, safonis and their friends, gesticulate or salute each time they pass mednahalem and the other numeorus religious edifices in the city

  i observe rather than mimic. i did note without condescension to alemtsehay and berhanu that when the sun comes up each morning directly over the church, it completely overshadows it as if to manifest that god is not a building but is all of creation…


  appropriately, the epiphany was celebrated over the past week. ethiopian orthodox christian churches gathered in mass for pomp and ceremony at the former polo grounds of the capital. it was a big event, a big show

  i had been anticipative after seeing an article and pictures about the festival in the ethiopian airlines in-flight magazine en route to addis. but as it unfolded, i saw through the event as just a show -- in part for tourism

  mao was only half-right. the church, and the state, conspire to control and subject the people under their domain. it is obvious that the government and church form the ruling system a la good cop/bad cop here, as in nations around the world, with one absolving the other of all wrongs

  i asked a relative of alemtsehay if he is devout, and he said yes. i asked is the church good, and he responded in the affirmative

  then i commented that it appears the government takes money on the one hand, and it is given or tithed to the church on the other, and the people remain poor. government and church officials have it good, while the masses struggle. where is the good in that?

 the man agreed with the veracity my picture, and alemtsehay's uncle, who had been listening, noted he concurs that the church and state can be twin wrongs, if not brazen evils

  abiy, the uncle's son, had made a significant point during a conversation my first week in addis. he noted that when university students protested the prime minister's apparent theft of the 2006 national election, they were rushed by police and troops and fled to a nearby church. rather than providing the students sanctuary, monks handed them over to the government officials for certain torture and probably worse

  a second-year law student, abiy said the election coup d'etat had irreversibly changed him. before, he said, he believed he could work inside ethiopia to make a difference. now, he realizes it is necessary to leave and eventually come back. he has a growing network of e-mail associates in canada and the united states

  the law student added ethiopia suffers the same skin-color and physical-features biases that exist around the world. he stressed jobs are scarce, and that they are disbursed based on how western and how good you look



what is progress?


  how does one measure human progress? with technology advancement is readily determinable, but when it comes to humans there's a war raging to define progress. ethiopia may be the line in the sand

  in my personal epiphany here, while recovering from my illness, i came to reason that with all the "this is the way we do that" and "that is how we do this" -- with all of that i decided since ethiopians love their culture so much, then let them have it

  i had, at that point, had enough. i determined: okay, i am immersed in ethiopia. i will continue to experience and tolerate it for the rest of my stay, but once i am out i want nothing more to do with it

  i recalled phyllis montana lablanc, the expletive-spewing woman in the hbo documentary on hurricane katrina, commenting on how hot it was in new orleans after the storm. she invoked the phrase "africa heat," and said, "you know, people say go back to africa? hell no!"

  alemtsehay maintains this is as good as it gets on the african continent. she probably is right, which only reinforces my long-held concept of an island paradise

  of course, it is possible to live or visit comfortably in africa. sarah, a friend in new york, forwarded me an e-mail noting that oprah had done the latter. were i staying with an aristocratic or bourgeois family things would be much better, and i could shower or flush the toilet whenever i wanted. during my escapes to the sheraton or hilton i am quite comfortable. i could view the major hotel venues as foreign imports, but the facilities form hotel chains and are essentially the same wherever they are situated so they are indeed “ethiopia”

  i would fare much better with minimal, basic hygiene. that's not asking too much, but it so often is lacking. no matter how poor you are, you can be clean and pure. well, available water is essential. and that is what's so often missing here


co-existing with flies


  i thought i was compassionate. i remember five years ago at a family reunion the host asked my brother jarrel and i to eliminate the flies in the dining hall, and handed over two fly swatters. i declined the assignment

  i well might use that swatter now! the compassion of the people here to flies far exceeds mine. after 24 days i am still fascinated to sit in the living room of alemtsehay's house and watch a swarm of flies playing in the center space. they are there morning to night, and invariably incur on food and visitors on a whim

  in my mind, a la luke skywalker, at times the flies take on the form of a fleet of the empire's starships. hovering in space, ready to do battle. there are times i am ready to fight back

  when a few of the flies invade alemtsehay's room -- my only refuge -- i try to practice co-existence. i recline on the bed. they fly around overhead near the door. all is fine, and i am determined to observe peace

  but inevitably one launches an attack on an ear or my face, and all restraints come off. i grab an alemtsehay garment and swing away. after a few seconds i catch myself and exercise restraint, reasoning it is futile to fight nature. that the flies are doing only what flies instinctively do. then i wonder why making peace with humans often is as difficult as making peace with flies

  alemtsehay has made a couple comments that amount to excuses about the flies, which i note to her are not present in other homes. a key factor is that she keeps open the front door, so she can be heard when calling for cadis, who generally is outside the house. the kitchen is located outside the home in ethiopia. in alemtsehay’s house it can be quite cool inside with the family under shawls, called gabbies, or around a charcoal stove, and the front door stays open. after i complained, alemtsehay would close it every now and then

  regarding flies, first alemtsehay said her brother had offered to spray a pesticide but she asked him not to because it could adversely affect me. i asked her to please approve the spray -- to no avail

  then she said the family had used some gas that keeps away flies, but stopped when she arrived in november. i asked her to please resume the use of the gas, also to no avail. so now, i just sought to embarrass her in front of a friend in the hope that may make her take action. the friend is eating lunch, as the flies go about their routine undeterred

  there are things alemtsehay could do much better, including covering food under refrigeration as well as items placed in the pantry. she could arrange for there to be enough water in the bathtub to always flush the toilet

  alemtsehay's household skills never impressed me in new york, and they are less impressive here. i keep quiet. i mostly keep everything inside. (i would return to new york to find her closet neatly arranged for the very first time. it was done in her absence by aynalem, one of her compatriot friends)

  along with the loss of romanticism for ethiopia, after spending 24/7 x 24 and going on 30 with alemtsehay i better realize my role in her life. there was never romance between us, only love. there will always be love, there will never be romance. after all, i am the monk who knows only pure, absolute love. love for all and everything

  alemtsehay has it good here, comparatively. she can live here nearly half the year, and then go to the united states to earn money running for the remainder. that pattern can go on for the three years or so that she will remain competitive. in july 2008 she should receive an 8-year extension on her u.s. permanent residency through 2014. i am sure she ultimately will choose to live in ethiopia, rather than pursue u.s. citizenship

  at this point i feel i have rendered the "help" she requested when we ran into each other in central park back in the summer  of 2004. i noted to numerous people last autumn that when she returned home after four years with the freedom of going  back to the united states, at that point i felt my purpose had been fulfilled. my role is a facilitator and liberator, not a captor. i soon will be well on my way chasing islands and learning more about god through all of creation, with ethiopia a "done that"




everywhere is beauty


  i thought i might be intrigued by the women of ethiopia, but actually it's been only subtle. the only woman i noted to alemtsehay "she's pretty" had been sitting beside me in a minivan taxi and i only noticed her face after she had exited the vehicle. proof beauty is always distant, and never the person next to you no matter how beautiful that person is

  beauty also is subjective. i have seen striking women here -- a good head of hair, a great chin, et al. but in most cases god-given beauty had been adulterated to the point of defacement. and, influenced by western movies, many women dress like trollops. either they try to look white, or they attempt to look black, and fall into the category of gaudy

  the greatest beauty is wielded by the women under shawls or hoods who walk gracefully in long dresses as they navigate city streets. with the headcoverings, you cannot see the full extent of their beauty but the hint is refreshing. they are not the norm, but rays of light

  people-watching is a constant here for me. i do not miss anything in the range of my view, but with regret refrain from photographing out of respect and consideration of others. and further, i am one with them; not a tourist

  here, except along major thoroughfares, streets are sidewalks until ubiquitous taxis or other vehicles come careering along. less-traveled streets double, or triple, as playgrounds -- until the horn of a vehicle is sounded

  crime is minimal, yet the streets are dangerous, potentially deadly, here. the culprits are the government officials and business owners who conspire to have benzene and diesel as the nation's primary vehicle fuels. i learned the hard way walking in the city can send you to the hospital


first faint


 well, i did not go to the hospital. but, it may only be because i told no one how bad i felt a week ago, 16 january. alemtsehay, berhanu and i had walked a good deal around the city the day before, and that tuesday i spent the day in bed with what felt like lung poisoning

 i cannot describe the feeling beyond something being wound-up in the chest and eventually unraveling, then getting near the end only for the final links to seemingly take an eternity to release. it was so bad i pondered telling alemtsehay the "secret" location of the money cache in my computer/shoulder bag so my body could be shipped back to the states

 the ordeal ended in a day, although i will never "adapt" to the vehicle emissions that keep me blowing my nose and coughing

 everyone is affected, even residents. and especially tourists and diplomats. coughing is part of the background in the lobby and restaurants of the sheraton and hilton. smoking is rare here, and cigarettes not prominent in stores and kiosks. in there place are tissue packets, called “soft tissue” here. vendors, often children, also sell the tissues along streets and at major intersections. bathroom tissue, also sold by vendors on the street, is a prime substitute for the tissue packs  

 on sunday, alemtsehay, berhanu and i went on an afternoon drive with safonis that was to include a stop at a supermarket, but the store was closed. we drove around, apparently with only safonis knowing where we were going, for about two hours. it was a pleasant outing, except for vehicle emissions. near the end we paused at a cinema to check movie times, and rushed off planning to return in 30 minutes with rettiq and dawit

 i suggested to alemtsehay that she should go to the movie with the children, noting i had promised abiy to screen "when the levees broke" at his house. she did not respond definitively, but i was thinking: "god, i can't take hollywood movies and the ones shown here certainly are worse. please give me an out"

 the car came to a stop in front of alemtsehay's gate, and i got out. as alemtsehay exited, i noted to her that her small purse still was inside, and she reached in to get it

 the next second, for me, alemtsehay was screaming "oh my god," and i was flabbergasted, thinking in pain "why is someone trying to do me harm?" as a blackness that had suddenly came over me gave way to light, i realized safonis and berhanu actually were on either side attempting to lift me from the ground

 i had fainted. it was my first faint, and i learned fainting hurts. pain made it clear i had fallen first on my left upper shoulder, then the left elbow and lastly the left top of my head. i was lucky. remember the rock-dirt roads described earlier. well, they definitely are mostly rock and it could have been much worse for me

 as it was my shoulder bag, loaded only with tissue packets, absorbed most of the impact. no blood was drawn, and after getting over the shock in an hour or so there was no lingering effect. except a knot near the top of my head and a sore elbow. i was able to appreciate that there was no going to the movies that evening, and saw the faint as divine intervention

 of course the incident raised alarm, drama, hype and exaggeration throughout the misganaw household and among relatives sharing the block. people say: get married and have children to make sure loved ones are around to care for you when you are ill. well, make sure you are really sick or they can be the pain

 there's nothing worse than having people diagnose you; telling you that you're sick when you know that you are excellent. i could not convince them that the fainting was a result of exposure to emissions during the hours of touring the city. that it was an end, not beginning, of illness. i had to take a stand, for the first time here asserting the ego after having always gone along with others during the stay in ethiopia, that i would not go to the hospital

 then came the barrage of "you’re anemic! why don't you eat more?" well, the food's no good! berhanu acknowledged yesterday at sheshaan indian restaurant in the sheraton that he, too, does not understand how ethiopian people eat essentially the same thing, three times a day, daily

 i noted that when i fainted we were en route to the supermarket for western, eastern, anything but ethiopian, fare, and i was not willfully avoiding food. the crisis ended yesterday, when we went to the bambi's supermarket and i purchased fresh french bread, canned butter beans in tomato sauce, canned curry vegetables, apple sauce, peanut butter, canned blackeye and green peas, granola, soy milk and white and red grape juice


home: looking back at ethiopia


 it is now 16 february, and i returned from ethiopia two weeks and two days ago. now i will attempt to recapture or at least recollect experiences in addis ababa from a more cerebral, overarching perspective than when there

 there were some tangents left unconnected in the writing from addis, such as ethiopia perhaps being the line in the sand in a war to define progress and human advancement. i noted to a friend via e-mail immediately after my return that ethiopia is so proud and stubborn, it thumbs its nose at time-honored practices in the rest of the world

 in ethiopia a year has 13 months, not 12; therefore according to its calendar it is now 1999 and the millennium does not occur until 10 october. there the sunrises about 12 a.m., and sets around 12 p.m. that really caused confusion when it came  to international travel, with airlines using greenwich mean time rather than ethiopian time

 that caused me to be stranded at the airport on arrival in ethiopia. only the brother of a friend of alemtsehay in new york was there, to claim the old thinkpad computer i was delivering for the friend. i had told alemtsehay I would arrive 7:30 a.m.; she said she called the airlines and was told 4 o'clock

 for my departure we, and all her family and a friend, arrived at the airport much too early; but with them all forced to remain outside the terminal i spent the four hours relating to some of the beautiful airline staff and nice airport workers. there was sunshine when i arrived, as i left addis cried rain 

 the alphabet, or fidel, is another area in which ethiopia stands apart from much of the world. well, it's in the company of china, japan, russia, greece and other nations, but when the world business community urged ethiopia to adopt a  phonetic alphabet that could be typed on computer keyboards a la english, french, german, italian et al, the government refused and kept its traditional amharic letters that somewhat resembles chinese characters




 the millennium is the next big thing in ethiopia, with nationalists from around the globe planning a celebrative return and airlines and hotels booked solid. it's so big that olympian multiple-world record holder kenesia bekele is determined to take delivery on a $500,000 aston martin luxury car by the millennium

 the ethiopian government has equally grandiose plans, with a highway project financed by the chinese government being rushed toward completion. even if the project is finished on time, the controversy around it is sure to continue. thousands of ethiopians saw homes and businesses taken and demolished to make way for the highway, and citizens charge they were poorly compensated for their property

 one views the congestion on city streets, with one lane of traffic in each direction, and can see the need for a highway. one looks at the drab concrete structures in varying stages of demolition, and wonder whether they were worth saving? one sees a few new apartment buildings of up to 10 levels, and wonder if this is where housing is headed in ethiopia

 certainly the residents who lost their properties would not be so upset if they felt adequately compensated, but their government is financially strapped and relying of foreign aid to build the highway. is the project progress for the government? yes! but it certainly is not for those who had their property seized

 foreign governments may help, but also they hurt. the ethiopian government has just introduced policy to prevent china from dumping cheap, inferior goods in ethiopia. currently it is possible to buy shoes made in china with the nike swoosh and other insignias or trademarks on the cheap, but when you wear them you come to realize they are inferior to the authentic product

 government is more blatantly oppressive in ethiopia, without the fascist element of corporations really being in control that you have in the united states and much of the west. one example is televison, where unless you buy a satellite dish system there are only two channels. both are operated by the government, one in amharic and the other in english, and broadcast only from afternoon to midnight with highly censored news, programming that repeats for hours, music videos from around africa and an english premiership football game on sunday nights. one of the most popular television shows is ethiopian idol, where contestants sing or dance for a panel of three judges who mimic randy, paula and simon

 the phone system, which the government controls, is another example of government control. you can call anyone as often as you like, but in ethiopia you cannot leave a voice message. text-messaging may be the rage around the globe, but it is non-existent in ethiopia. that is just one way the government exerts control

 safonis blames government on his business troubles, saying it does not permit him to take action that could make his metals repair shop more successful. alemtsehay is buying her house from the ethiopian development bank, and has bureaucratic tales to tell. she went to a sub-city hall three times during my stay to meet with a bureaucrat


whose streets?


 i was in addis during a organization of african unity gathering of heads of state, and got caught up in the pretentiousness of government officials making each other feel important. streets, neighborhoods and portions of the city would be shut down for presidential and diplomatic motorcades to move from the organization's headquarters to the sheraton, hilton or airport. residents, particularly taxi drivers, could only fume as traffic jammed during the street closings

 taxi drivers are a interesting breed, much like in new york and elsewhere. but there it's common for them to turn off the engine when stuck in traffic, only to turn it on again in a matter of seconds when vehicles inch ahead. i've heard that it consumes a higher amount of gas to start a car than to let it idle, but maybe they know something else

 they do know how to drive. car and truck accidents are rare in and around addis. in my month i saw only about a half dozen.

 truck and bus breakdowns are more common. women can drive, too, in ethiopia. better than in the west, i would say. i was surprised to see them maneuvering suv's and old manual transmission cars through the chaos of city streets

 i declined safonis' offers to drive his car. first because of the fact people walk in the street until they hear a car horn and i did not want to risk hitting anyone. but mostly because i did not trust the car and its crane-neck gearshift

 i told alemtsehay next time i go there i will rent a car, and stay at the sheraton

 major streets have names in addis, and i was surprised to see a street sign reading "josef tito boulevard." surely it was a remnant from the marxist government and the street now has a new official name, but the sign was still there. i found the signs "jomo kenyatta boulevard," former the independence leader in neighboring kenya, to be more appropriate



nirvana is letting go


 anytime you go some place and stay for a month it is going to be eventful. a month away from normalcy is a poignant time for introspection and thorough examination of the world around you and beyond. i learned a great deal about people, nature and myself during the stay. it was a wilderness experience, much like jesus had when he went to confront and overcome the demons in his life

 although i am two weeks out of addis, often i find myself still walking streets of the city or waiting to catch a taxi by mednahalem church. despite a change of geography, it not so simple to get the city out of one's being. it imbued me for a month, and i internalized it forever, there are aspects i miss. what, 30 days without western media, particularly news and commercials as well as the entities they promote such as mcdonald's and burger king. coke and pepsi are prominent in addis, even battling for visibility with signs on the fences of public parks, but i hear there is only one mcdonald's and i saw a single kfc

 what i experienced most was letting go. the fact that there really is no such thing as control. nor security. my stay was all about being and letting be. i could not cook a dish, nor wash one or empty a waste basket, on my own. everything was controlled by others. the cooking devices are a portable propane stove and a charcoal stove that were kept outside the house in an area i had no access

 the stoves were brought into the living room of the house to prepare the canned foods and pasta i consumed, or to make tea or popcorn. it was because there was no real stove that i had to resort to cans rather than dry beans which require hours to cook. that is much too long for propane or charcoal fueled stoves

 alemtsehay often had my clothes laundered along with hers by cadis, but when possible i washed mine in the shower. of course, showering was not always possible

 not being able to clean up after myself, washing dishes or emptying garbage, really bothered me. i would leave all the tissue used to blow my nose in a tiny waste receptacle in the bathroom for several days until cadis noticed and emptied it

 that was the only grievance -- i was not allowed to do basic things. even in terms of coming and going from alemtsehay's house. i never ventured from the compound alone. when i went to the corner store, alemtsehay would send rettiq or dawit along. when i spoke of taking a taxi alone from her house or the sheraton, it was always "you can't speak amharic" or "the taxi driver will cheat you"

 i was a prisoner, and naturally tension grew towards my jailers. i have always wanted to visit countries and stay with families in their homes rather than at hotels. however, in ethiopia i promised never to put myself in another situation where i had to relinquish control of matters so basic to life. i vowed to not stay at alemtsehay's house again, rethinking a decision to never return to ethiopia




 i was frequently taken places uninformed. alemtsehay and safonis speak english, so they could have let me known things. instead, in one case, we drove and suddenly stopped at a park on a sunday afternoon as a football match was  about to begin in the adjacent national stadium. i am dumbfounded, and reminded them that parks are everywhere and there is nothing special about walking through one in addis. shoot, i would have liked to have gone to the game like the crowd we were among

 on another occasion safonis came by alemtsehay's house after she said we were going to see her uncle. but first we drove to a restaurant. alemtsehay and i had recently eaten, so i figured safonis must be hungry. i was introduced to a man identified as the brother of admas, a friend in new york. only after listening to them talk for 15 minutes did i realize we were there because alemtsehay was planning an ethiopian wedding reception

 when he asked me what foods i like i let the restauranteur, who came across to me as a dime-a-dozen businessman and in no way special just because i knew his sister, that i was against the idea. so, he shut me out of the conversation and they continued until the point that alemtsehay handed over money


letting be


 i thought the affair was a done deal, and accepted that reality although i disapproved of it. i did not want to gullibly follow a stupid routine just because its customary or tradition. to me, the three receptions held in the united states are sufficient. (they gained alemtsehay homeland security approval.) i had been warned that she had done some planning for a ceremony, but relaxed after being there a week and hearing or seeing nothing

 rather than get upset after leaving the restaurant/banquet hall, i left matters to the higher power and chose to simply accept events as they unfolded. i decided if alemtsehay wants this, then i should do it for her. there was no romanticism in that position, only love

  a day or two later after training in the hills above addis the matter came up in conversing with a friend. berhanu was with us, and i noted that alemtsehay should put the money towards the purchase of her house rather than spend it to impress other people or do something just because "everybody does it." i was not emphatic in my opposition, and ended the conversation by stating it was alemtsehay's decision and i would do whatever she chose

 later that day alemtsehay chose not to have a ceremony this winter. i was happy, and her father equally so. Everyone in the household seemed relieved, in fact. alemtsehay called her mother, to inform her of the cancellation. i slept very good that night







 of course a few days later alemtsehay noted a payment was due on the house. she said she needed to pay $1700, but did not state any specific deadline. i gave her $1000, and the next day we went to the bank for her to make the payment. the staff knew her from over the years, and noted she is nearing the end of her payments

 at that time and others during the trip i felt i was being used. of course being used is something one controls; you either allow it or not. i always do what is for the greater good, realizing i can easily sacrifice to help others. but there is the element that (in ethiopia, because i am an american and have more money) some people take advantage

 of course that factor exists in all relationships, perhaps more so when two people are of the same nationality. the more alike, the more it happens. rather than the inverse. it's societal, a social norm in all relationships

 sex? told you i am a monk. alemtsehay is focused on her running, and i can think of nothing more boring than it would be to seduce your wife. i mean, where is the seduction in that? it is so, arranged. whether the two individuals or their parents make the decision, all marriages are arranged. marriage reduces sex to procreation. certainly god intended sex for propagation, but marriage is something man created

 there is sufficient reason to be put off about marriage. love, yes! but there is nothing in marriage in which to believe. it is just a social arrangement. another system of control. ethiopia made me realize i have to get out of it in the proper manner, because it stifles personal development and self advancement. marriage hinders one's spiritual progression and the individual transformations that are the only means of true revolution in the world


life coach


 in ethiopia the rule of alemtsehay, and to a lesser extent safonis, began as soon as i arrived. i was shown her room, and noticed the bathroom but was not directed to the kitchen or to where waste was stored or disposed. i was never in a position to be self-sufficient, but made to always ask and rely on others

 there i assessed my position as that of the proletariat under the oppressive dominion of government. made captive, adrift and dependent, by having the means of production, in this case functioning, taken away. that pretty much is the way government functions under capitalism. to just make it, survive, you have to do what you are told. get with the program and be part of the system

 the familial control i was under in ethiopia extended to running. not the line system in which runners proceed in single file, with the faster in the front; that is necessary order. however safonis, obviously accustomed to being the coach of alemtsehay and others, directed me to take it easy and run with him rather than alemtsehay's group my first days there as a way of adapting to the air and environment

 that was boring, but i did it until the end of workouts when i would flex and get in some sprints. after that first week safonis was busy and rarely took part in the remaining workouts. after the first two weeks, having been sickened, i really did not take part in workouts. sometimes i went, but merely stretched or took pictures

 like the typical american, i was voiceless and subject to the will and wiles of those is positions of power. there was no communication; i was not told what was happening until it happened. or we would go visit someone, say alene's family, for lunch but end up staying past dinner with me watching videos repeat themselves or staring at the ceiling while others conversed in amharic

 i was probably never more bored than i was at times in ethiopia. but you know, i think i mastered handling boredom along with learning so much about me, others and human nature

 there is always something new to learn, and at safonis' suggesting i am attempting to relearn running. i have always been a heel-to-toe runner, but safonis advised me to run on my toes and made it seem practical. after all, running on your heels create a backward lean that counters forward movement. it causes gravity to work against you, and produces drag. i have recommended heel-toe running to others in the past, but now i see the error of my ways. change is rarely easy, but i am trying to personal revolutionize the way i run. i will try almost anything to slow the trend of me running slower and slower




 numerous friends have asked if i traveled to see the old churches and monasteries in axum or lalibela, or to cafes on bole street. i opted out of all of that, content to make the city my own. another time perhaps, and alone. essentially, i was with alemtsehay in addis and would be obligated to take her with me to another place. "where would be the fun in that?" i asked myself as i experienced the constraints of marriage like a chokehold. new friends in addis would suggest  parties, but i would note what’s the point in going to a party with your wife because no one is going to be open and freely share insights with you. they will see you as coupled, rather than free

 throughout the trip i was determined not to be a tourist. virtually all the photos i took during the trip are of people. i went to juice/salad bars, but not traditional restaurants. on one occasion safonis stopped by such a spot after a rather long day and asked if i wanted to hear traditional music. it was past dinner time but before people go out, and we were the only persons in the place except for the band. i was not in the mood, and let everyone know, so we left

 it was another case of not being informed. had i been asked about going to the joint, or even told, i would have been more receptive. but to think you are going home only to find yourself thrust into a dark, restaurant, and you are not hungry or thirsty, with a three-person band beginning to perform and a man singing in a foreign tongue -- well i was not prepared for that and did not see the practicality of waiting for people to fill the space. we all could have derived at a more interesting destination through dialogue

 there was fun in meeting people, and making friends. for me fun was becoming acquainted with the girl at the juice bar with a respect that transcended flirting even in the presence of alemtsehay. interacting with english-speaking staff at an internet cafes. fun was becoming endeared with rettiq and dawit, and visiting alemtsehay's relatives on her block and about the city

 fun during the trip was temporarily "leaving" ethiopia by entering the sheraton or hilton. catching up on the latest carolina basketball game on the internet. seeing ethiopian friends enjoy their first meal at a restaurant. trying to learn amharic. taking photographs, particularly of women with outstanding features

 running provided a lot of fun. the challenge and overcoming, as well as the times when i could not keep up with others. there also was hilarity, like when eight of us traveled to a training site in safonis' toyota corolla hatchback


self-mastery i can only wish for


 there were five guys in the backseat, and alemtsehay, me and the driver in the front. traffic police stand at major intersections of the city monitoring for overcrowded vehicles, i came to learn. at first i had no idea what was going on when several runners got out to the car, ran/walked through the intersection, and got back in on the other side to avoid having us stopped by the cop

 what stood out the most, however, was when one friend volunteered to lay in the tire well under the floor of the hatch area so police would see one less occupant. i could not imagine doing that. i would be overcome by claustrophobia, and kick and scream to be let out of that tire hole. think about it. it is amazing to me that someone could have that much self-control. the discipline to lie in a dark, dank hole of a car for about 20 minutes. wow, i wish i had such tolerance


here and there: "democracy" ain't nothing but a word


 the 2006 vote demonstrated to some ethiopians there is no democracy some 40 years after a dictator was overthrown and two decades following the toppling of a marxist government, as the 2000 presidential election illustrated for those willing to see that there in none in the united states

 like abiy, many ethiopians look to the past as the good old days; as did people in haiti despite the atrocities of the duvaliers and as do many americans of brown or pale complexion

 ethiopians say the nation was richer and more stable, reverent and at peace, during the rule of haile selassie. many reject the foreign media influence that has young people mimicking western lifestyles, at least in dress and aspirations. women in tight pants and high heels are a dime a dozen, but their exoticism gone erotic is a turnoff unless that is what you are looking for

 dress styles vary diametrically, from muslim-like long dresses and head-coverings to daisy dukes with words like "kitty" on the back. as anywhere, if you can't read a person's face then what they are wearing will tell everything about them. as in cuba  there was no apparent attempt to curtail the loose expressionism in women attire, and hotels were magnets for trollops with no government countermeasures evident except once you get inside

 aiby said the marxist government was more progressive and viable than the current presidency. he said that head of state introduced good programs and sought to spread wealth from the hands of the few to the masses. however, abiy said the leader did not take well to criticism and retaliated brutally for anyl dissent to the point there was sufficient conglomeration of opposition to overthrow him

 with 80 tribes and as many dialects, a democratic government would be a challenge in ethiopia. as it is, a member of the tygrina tribe wields power and only tribesmen support him. the government has little support in and around addis except from civil servants

 hopefully one day socialism, and not a narrow strain of marxism, will get another chance in ethiopia. perhaps some day in the united states socialism will extend beyond benefits for corporations and the wealthy to also apply to the masses. for there can be no democracy under a capitalist system. capitalism is another word for “fascism” 


east or west: which is best?


 meritzo is a friend of alemtsehay who rejects basically everything ethiopian and aspires to western lifestyles. her dress, from a leather cap to leather pointed boots, reflects that inclination and a desire to one day live in europe or the americas. she is an aspiring singer, but because she is not fluent in english cannot gain exposure for her music outside ethiopia. she also dreams of modeling, but probably lacks both the face and height. she works at the sheraton, but not in a visible position. not as western in physical features as in her mind, she is relegated to a cook in the kitchen

 rettiq, a woman who met alemtsehay on seventh avenue last summer and asked to be friends, has the look and the height and is a model. when we first met, she reminded me of the adage be careful what you wish for. i was walking in the driveway of my building while returning home from a long run in the park, and saw the silhouette between sun and shadow among tall buildings of a beautiful tall, thin woman with a flowing afro pass before me along 62d street. i thought "wish she was going to my apartment," and proceeded to do some stretching before going upstairs. when i walked into the apartment there was the woman, talking with alemtsehay

 lust in the mind, or at least intrigue, turned to private embarrassment and thoughts that we must see beauty objectively, rather than subjectively, and in all people. i maintain that is easier to do when people do not alter themselves in vain attempts out of comparisons to look like someone else; that no matter what is bought or put on, we appear our most beautiful out of the bath or shower

 i met rettiq's youngest sister when we visited their house, my first encounter with a bourgeois family in ethiopia. the sister, i cannot remember or spell her name, is a university student and is engaged to marry. her major is marketing, but i refrained from suggesting that such studies would only lead her to helping to exploit gullible people into buying stuff they do not need

 she is confident of her future, and determined to live it in her homeland. she outright rejects any idea of leaving ethiopia, saying she is sure to get a professional job and will have children based on decisions by her and her future husband. her model sister, who married a haitian-american u.s. aid worker, may love it in the west but her loyalties are at home

 alemtsehay had boasted throughout our acquaintance of how fresh and natural food is in ethiopia compared to the united states. however, just as ethiopian people are smaller in statue than westerners so is their food

 that’s true for the lambs, goats and cows, but i don’t consider animals food. specifically, oranges, mangoes, bananas, papayas and lemons are diminutive there, and not as sweet in taste. they are abundant, however, grown in the more tropical regions of ethiopia away from the mountains of the capital. And they are natural, without the uniformed, manufactured, blemish-free, artificial look of fruits in the united states   

 it is clear women have it tougher than men in ethiopia. by tradition they accept a subservient status in the household, and often put up with men who cheat by having other relationships; especially when travel is involved or when one partner is living abroad. good-looking women probably have an advantage in getting jobs, in some cases even over men. in ethiopia women have broader roles in work, and are found in light-duty tasks at construction sites and all matter of work in farming and herding. one notices an aspect in which they are disadvantaged is the lack of public restrooms and wash closets. gas stations and many eating establishments lack facilities, and it’s commonplace to see a man standing barely off the sidewalk urinating. women have to wait.

 white trucks emblazoned with “un” for united nations in addis was a reminder of haiti. however, there the vehicles were involved in aid projects and not military operations. there, some were even operated by ethiopians in addition to white people 




life without white people


 i was a foreigner in ethiopia, yet often felt more at home than in new york or most of the united states. there have been experiences of being the same skin color as the majority population in jamaica and haiti, but not such an extensive one. in jamaica white people were american, canadian and european tourists who looked like they could not afford martinique or st. bart's. in haiti, caucasians were aid workers or part of the united nations force. in ethiopia, they ran the gamut of millennium student-hippies on an exchange to senior-citizen christians viewing old churches

 however, they were not much in number. white people began to stick out like a gray hair that you pull upon looking in the mirror. of course, eventually the gray hair will become dominant and one's perspective change

 in ethiopia i saw white people differently. as outsiders, after always having viewed them in positions of control or dominance in the west. it felt different, perhaps empowering, to view them from the perspective of the majority and see them as the distinct majority

 what effectively happened was that people of color became the standard of beauty, and the standard period. without the media, from billboards to television, constantly bombarding me with white people, a deprogramming or un-brainwashing occurred that reinforced black is indeed beautiful. white people cannot imagine how deflating it is for "minorities" to always view caucasians in the media. on tv, in movies, throughout advertising, i get tired of seeing white people and realize the media is not reflecting the reality of the world. so i turn them off and tune them out. i am colorblind, but not blind

 the change in demographics was purely geographic, because of climatological differences, but provided a perspective that created greater balance in my perception of the world

 it reinforced that beyond beauty, people are to be viewed objectively and as all the same. one world, one humanity




 three days after returning home i spoke to my sister, teen, about the trip. she is a preacher's wife, and conveyed that a minister who visited africa said that despite the poverty and deprivation there the young people have a gleam in their eye and optimism to their being that is lacking among youth in this country. notably, a study released last week found that the hardest places to live for children among 22 so-called developed nations are the u.k and the u.s.

 my sister went on to address that in this country we give children gizmos and games, trendy clothing and excessive food, but all those things are not effecting happiness. while in africa, children who by our standards have little of anything else have happiness

 she continued that obviously this capitalist system, which divides us into competing individuals and households and engenders a keep-up-with-the-joneses mentality, is not best for people and that we should seek a socialist society where there is a focus on equality and cooperation. where people are judged by their character, and not what they wear, drive or call a home

 i thought, "right on, sister. you are speaking my mind." i was ecstatic. the sister i had written off as bourgeois was espousing socialism and a social revolution. the world is changing, and i am full of hope and optimism that we all will have our personal revolutions in thought and action   



clickable photos


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 etopia (ethiopia/cairo 31/12/07 to 16/01/08)

tourists at the pyramids

(click a photo to see full-size version)



 ...the chinese food was no good. it never is; unless it's late at night and there are no other options. but i ate much of it, and the rest tasted better for lunch the next day on my return to the office


 now i have been back stateside 2.5 weeks, time to reflect on the trip and offer analysis. there were some events overlooked in writing while in the thick of things, a few humorous


 for instance i received a pitiful re-introduction to sitz baths at the cairo airport. i went to the men's room, and could not locate a lever for the toilet until i spotted a button near the floor. it was the wrong one. i pressed it, and a stream of water squirted up out of the bowl and straight into the door of the stall. i got wet, along with a piece of luggage. and the floor was  soaked. a group of workers were lounging in the bathroom by the basins. they saw me come from the stall, realized what happened, and we all laughed


 as always allah/buddha/god/shiva, or the spiritual force, was apparent throughout the trip. i mentioned getting sick. i cannot adequately convey the relief that came in going to the bathroom as the very last thing done before heading to the airport and, at the last moment, the final opportunity before leaving to get on a plane, being freed of everything that had made me sick the past 36 hours


 i was impressed with at&t that my blackjack phone worked in africa without even changing the sim card. i even feel the phone tried to warn me i was missing my original flight, but i did not take heed. the phone alarm, which i have set for 7:50 monday morning to remind me to move the car before getting a ticket, went off when it was time for me to go the airport that sunday morning. i was mystified by the alarm at the time, thinking "what could have caused it to go off" then. later i would reason the universe was giving me a signal, but i did not think deeply enough about it and attune to my world at that moment, or i would have checked my flight time


 the time difference was a factor from the start of the trip. i arrived in addis ababa at 2:30 a.m., and there was no one to meet me at the airport. i had anticipated that, because alemstehay had been thinking local time in telling me she and family members would meet me at the airport 8:30 that morning. i had not stressed that i would arrive overnight because for months i had spoken of surprising her by banging on the gate of her compound after arriving by taxi


 leaving the airport there was a taxi manager, who for a tip asked where i was going and gave me a form with the set price of $12. then he led me to a taxi, and i was set to venture out as a stranger into a darkened city that i was visiting for only the second time in a still-strange land. however, the universe provided comfort. the taxi driver wore a carolina jacket, sky blue and emblazoned with the university of north carolina name and logo, so i knew everything would be fine


  ...even if i could not exactly remember the route to alemtsehay's house, and the driver did not know the landmark mendalehem church that me and the taxi dispatcher told him was my destination. i led him out of the way a bit, and was unable to find the church. so the driver called a friend on his cell phone for accurate directions. i thought i was more than fare, or fair, in giving the driver $20, but he told alemtsehay in their lanaguage, amharic, that i had him drive around a lot and asked for more money. i understood what was happening, and told her to give him only a small additional amount because i had brought him within blocks of her house and he should have known of the church around the corner


 the church brought comfort again this trip, especially when i was sick, with the music and liturgies it broadcasts throughout the neighborhood. at one point i asked berhanu, a friend there, if it was not oppressive for the orthodox church to spew its message throughout communities whether all the people in range wanted to hear it. his response was that  mosques do the same thing in their neighborhoods, whether people nearby are muslim or christian


 i've learned to listen to people since the trip. i remember alemtsehay and berhanu asking if i had confirmed my reservation the night before my original flight, and i dismissed their inquiry as i focused in getting ready a computer i had planned to leave there for one of her uncles


 so, when safonis asked that monday if i had called the office to inform co-workers i missed my flight, at first i typically ignored him. then i thought of the current office climate -- a hiring and salary freeze, buyouts of senior employees and a general hostile work environment as interns who are paid little are given preferential treatment so higher-paid veterans will want to leave-- i decided i better call the office


 even last week, when jarrel mentioned our sister ernestine, an attorney, suggested i needed a lawyer in answering a speeding summons after being caught by radar driving at 88 mph on interstate 81 in southwestern virginia, i went to the internet and contacted one in that area


 jarrel just called. the giants won the super bowl! i knew without watching, by listening to the noise outside on the street. not so much car horns like when the yankees win a world series, but people verbally celebrating while leaving bars and driving around in cars


 all week i turned off the tv because it was sickening to hear the tv commentators, the nonsense-talkingheads termed experts, rave about how great were the patriots and tom brady (maybe they paralleled the team's name with the mindless support-the-troops mentality in america). the telling point is that they are wrong much more than right, yet people listen to them. they get paid well, and are not held to account (that is so common in this society). i tell jarrel and others that it�s a waste to watch games, but an admission to being caught in the matrix, brain-dead, to listen to the people do a lot of loud talking before or after games. or even with current events on sunday morning tv talk shows. just a waste. a diversion from people doing things that are meaningful and which could change their circumstance and the world


 one big difference between the united states and ethiopia is that there, people know they have no democracy and often articulate it. they say there president is simply a puppet of george w. bush. here, people subconsciously know we do not live in a democracy but have been told so often that we do that we do not think otherwise and accept a false reality


 africa is more excited about obama than african-americans are, or were before iowa and south carolina. they see obama as representing democracy in the united states. however, we are in a better position to see through that. and to realize that "democracy" required being able to raise $32 million in the month of january alone


 i told ethiopian friends there is only a consumer democracy in the united states. that we are free to purchase flat-screen tvs (another example of buying our own poison, or the very thing that enslaves us), a lexus or benz or an ipod or iphone; but people there who have little materiel are more happy and optimistic about life. that in ethiopia people really believe they can improve their lives, while in the united states the mode is just to get by or be an image. bling comes to define us. instead of individuals created in the image of allah/buddha/god/shiva, we are the car. the rock. the crib


 meanwhile, europeans are laughing at americans because their currency goes twice as far for the same hours worked; meaning they can afford to come here and shop for gadgets at literally 50-percent savings. from a worldview, even our consumer democracy fails


 finally, the thought came while in ethiopia that americans who visit there would be more likely to become vegetarians. in america, consumers are separated from the animals that are slaughtered in order for them to maintain their dining habits or rituals. americans go to supermarkets or butcher shops and purchase meet almost as if it is grown on trees -- like real food. i mean they don't have to see the source of their meat, only the sanitized packaging after the slaughter


 on the streets of addis ababa, one gets to watch goats, lambs and cows being led to homes for the slaughter in advance of christmas dinners. they go unwillingly, kicking and screaming. african-americans perhaps more than other ethnic groups might appreciate the significance of animal families being separated at markets after being herded into the city, even if the separation comes on the eve of being slaughtered


 there not only does one get to see animals before they are killed and consume, but the day after you can see the skin or fur of their carcasses being carried from place to place for some purpose i was unable to ascertain. perhaps clothing, or some home furnishing; but in ethiopia everything gets used. and surely pets love the holiday ritual because they get the animal parts human do not want


 being a vegan in a carnivore world fits in with being african-american, anti-capitalist and spiritual. one realizes a perfect world, but has to consider the world as it is. there is the reality of being in but not of the world. it is not for me to proselytize or judge, but being a vegan is basic to being a monk and the pursuit of spirituality and being god-like


 one can reason rather elementary: if we don't want to be like animals, why eat them? more contemplatively is to see meat consumption as the downfall of humanity. the chief reason why we have lost the kingdom, and show know sign of regaining it


 murder, war, capitalism. it all flows from the foul and vile practice of taking life unnecessarily to preserve our own. nature provides us abundant vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains; why eat other living creatures who like us have brains, eyes and heart(s). perhaps the message in the garden of eden got misinterpreted, purposely, and rather than an apple adam and eve ate the snake -- and that brought on their condemnation


 i conclude this thought with the suggestion that anyone who, as i did, saw that goat fighting for its life, trying to free itself of the rope around its neck and its captor in a futile bid to survive after being purchased at the market on belay zekele avenue -- if americans or anyone with a conscious, who are awaken to spirituality, can see that, they will see that is not the way of allah/buddha/god/shiva  


 into africa

running water was all i really wanted for the ethiopian (orthodox christian) christmas on 7 january. however, there would be no santa claus

 the lack of tap water for showers and flushing the toilet -- using bottled water to wash my face and brush teeth -- had led me to look forward to the prompt completion of an 11-day (plus three days in transit) visit here

 allah/buddha/god/shiva had other plans, however, and i am on an extended stay that is instilling an increase in perseverance and the awareness i am not in control but must to submit to the higher power of universality encompassing all creation

 guess i was not so desperate to getaway. for i did not check my return ticket until the day i was to leave. that was sunday, the 13th,  and shortly after daybreak i retrieved the e-ticket from my luggage and goggled at it incredulously

 indeed i was to depart that day, but the scheduled time was 3:50 a.m. i could not believe it; i had missed my flight

 banging myself on the head for being so negligent or plain dumb, i conveyed the discovery to alemtsehay’s little sister, rettiq, who then told her older sister irgadore; who called alemtsehay

 alemtsehay soon returned from training in the hills with a group of runners and her brother, safonias. hoping against reality, we rushed to the airport. i prayed in positive thought for a cancellation or mechanical delay, but at the ticket counter learned the flight had departed on schedule

 we returned home, and showered and dressed before having lunch at the home of meseret defar, the olympian middle-distance runner and a national hero. while there, talking with meseret in her personal palace with alemtsehay and safonias i thought perhaps it was purposeful to have missed the flight

 merseret is the world-record holder over three and five kilometers on both the road and track. she won a gold medal at the athens olympics in 2004. at one point during the visit to her house, i got up and looked throughout her trophy cabinet and there was a plaque from the mesgenaw dancers

 it is a group of ethiopian children who tour north america annually (the troupe’s performances are on youtube) raising money to aid schools and orphanages back home. meseret is admired in her country nearly as much for assisting others (she is funding an orphanage), as her world-leading running performances

 there was an alemtsehay moment during the visit, as we prepared to have the meal. alemtsehay, safonias and i lined up at a bathroom to wash hands with her in the lead, and she moved the lever from side to side to no effect. with a sense of schadenfreude amid her own lack of a regular flow of water at home, alemtsehay pronounced, “meseret, there is no water. nothing”

 however, safonias was next in line and showed alemtsehay to move the lever up for water and sideways to select hot or cold. we washed our hands as meseret’s housekeeper came too late to assist, giving us an eye of “from where did you people come”

 there is some water flow at alemtsehay’s house, but it is very sporadic. like 10 percent of the time. she said the problem began in late december, and encompasses a good portion of the city (but not meseret’s and other affluent neighborhoods). it is common to see adults and children hauling water in 10 gallon receptacles or buckets containing lesser amounts, as well as middle-class-family members loading them into suvs. there is system of reciprocity, in which families take turns providing and procuring water

 alemtsehay said there was a (government) television news report on residents protesting about having to pay water bills but not receiving a regular supply. a relative of hers whose home next door also is affected attributed the problem to infrastructure work on replacing water lines in the city

 addis ababa is an old city on the remake. construction is booming everywhere, encompassing both commercial and residential neighborhoods. the trend is high-rise construction and retail towers (vertical shopping malls) on the business side, and mid-rise (eight to 10 levels) residential structures for the working class. meanwhile affluent families and are building walled castles much like meseret’s, easily distinguishable by rising above the typical single-level residential height and being equipped with satellite television antennae and barbed-wire

 that evening ended low-key at the home of an uncle of alemtsehay, and me staying up re-watching the matrix reloaded on my computer in wait of another attempt at flight. we left for the airport about 1am, and after arriving there was hope for about 15 minutes

 my e-ticket was sent by the eqypt air manager to an airport office, where it was determined i could not get a seat on the connecting cairo-to-jfk flight that day. “addis to cairo is no problem,” i was told, “but we cannot let you use this ticket for that flight without a confirmed ticket from cairo to jfk”

 he said another carrier would not honor my egypt air ticket, when i inquired about flying to cairo and seeking a flight on another airline. he then added i would be better off waiting for a flight to nyc in addis than cairo, revealing allegiance to his native ethiopia and the stigma of dull and drab  attached to arab countries

 a 10-hour layover in cairo incoming to addis ababa revealed the people are not so dull at night;   they simply carry on behind closed doors. that when women’s scarves come off, so do otherwise unseen wardrobe parts. cairo has a population of 22 million, and i realized arabs are a populous people whose birth rate surely intimidates jews and zionists in the region

 it appears most adults have a car, as traffic flow turned into molasses during the afternoon rush when i took a tour by suv of the city and giza, the site of the sphinx and great pyramids. it was a packaged tour expressly for gullible foreigners, and i aborted it after stop at a papyrus “museum” where the unspoken arrangement is for tourists to see and buy artwork

 when my personal tour director, a sheer capitalist who along with associates hustled me soon as i cleared customs (the first guy was right at the booth so i thought he was official) stopped at a perfume factory against my protestations, i refused to go in.  “okay, your tour is over,” said the guide. “the driver will take you downtown, and then to the airport by 8 for your 10:10 flight. you can pay me now, so i can go home”

like a nyc airport taxi driver, the guide had told me stories about how hard life is in an attempt to soften me for a good tip. i gave the guy $85. he asked if i could give him more, and we settled on an additional $5. the personal tour in a luxury vehicle probably was worth it, but the tour was a bore. with all their ancient majesty, in these times the pyramids smack of crass commercialism and given what i know now i would have been content with mere photographs in books rather than viewing them personally

the reliance on private vehicles in cairo contrasts to the dependency of taxicars, taxivans and buses in addis ababa. the capital, and other cities in ethiopia, move on the wheels of the blue-and-white, government-regulated vehicles that traverse the city and countryside typically filled with riders

 the roads, especially side streets, are hard on vehicles and the most popular ones are suvs and trucks. paved streets are pocked with potholes and ruts, and dirt roads leading to homes are loaded with stones much like in biblical times

 “they built our roads,” berhanu, a friend answered when i asked why ethiopians look up to italians despite warring between the countries ending with the axis defeat in world war 2. i went on to note that while ethiopians claim to be the only african nation never colonized, it was occupied by italy and there is a pronounced neo-colonialist relationship. i thought i read in the institute of ethiopian studies at the university of addis ababa that the occupation lasted 13 years ending with british liberation with the defeat of mussolini troops

 however, berhanu insisted the occupation was only five years, and that ethiopians defeated the italians. history depends on who is telling it, apparently. abdiy, another friend has a distrust for white people yet expressed “perhaps it would have been better if ethiopia had been colonized. african countries that were are more advanced and have opened up to the world.” we noted  ethiopia has it own alphabet, or fidel (akin to asian characters which hardly any other people can read let alone write) and calendar (with 13 months that has the millennium occurring this year)

the way time is kept makes air departure times somewhat difficult, although i cannot claim that as a factor in missing my flight. in fact i agree that the day should start at dawn, with zero hour, rather than the obtuse, western-imposed concept of day beginning a minute after midnight. i  tried to use the excuse my arrival at the airport for the 3:50 a.m. flight was at 2 a.m. local time, but the airlines personnel did not buy it and imposed a $50 flight cancellation fee in issuing a new ticket

there are many hard-fast customs and traditions i humbly feel the people would be better off without. the university instruction is based in english, but outside of classes it is hardly spoken so there is little mastery. i was hard-pressed to hold a conversation during a walk through campus, finding security guards more proficient in english than students. of course i am not judging; it is on me learn to learn amharic. however, like university students the world over i expected those here to speak english

 ethiopians outwardly are a very religious people, with their country claiming the world’s oldest christian church. churches dominate the landscape, and there are numerous mosques. devotees line streets to them on holy days and holidays. there was anticipation to see whether the church or capitalism would win out with christmas eve, a major shopping day just about everywhere, falling on a sunday here

 well, capitalism easily ruled the day. most shops were open, and there was a shopping frenzy. last sunday, 13 january, i observed the sabbath is a big shopping day with vendors selling their wares along streets around churches and in crowded open markets in central locations

 like everywhere, religion here is a coat, shawl, scarf or hat that people put on and take off at their own, or their government’s, will (whereas spirituality is the individual submission to the will of allah/buddha/god/shiva). church officials are on government television almost as frequently as political figures in an unveiled conspiracy that keep the populace compliant and controlled. government takes people’s money in taxes while they willingly give it to the church in tithes, and very little changes in their lives. the church is an accomplice and beneficiary to government oppression       

 i am up in the air now somewhere over the mediterranean, heading towards the alps, france and london before crossing the atlantic

 what would a trip to africa be without getting sick. last year i had my first faint in ethiopia. this time there was food poisoning the day before my departure. the culprit was injera, ethiopian cuisine eaten with a crepe-like bread, and specifically string beans, [we’re making progress… the cabin monitor shows we are now over milan] during a lunch at the home of alemtsehay’s oldest sister, zebalem

 i had eaten there last year and afterwards raved about her cooking. this time i immediately felt nauseated, and a couple hours later dizzy with shyivers and chattering teeth. the malaise lasted

for the remainder of the stay, with me vomiting it all out just before leaving for the airport this morning

 “god is great/allah akbar,” i thought. they made a movie “snakes on a plane”; the only thing worse would be sick on a plane. i experienced that a year ago on a flight from nyc to charlotte after being sickened by organic granola. now i am feeling better by the minute, and have resolved to have sautéed broccoli and soft tofu with brown rice from a chinese restaurant when i return home this afternoon

 this laptop battery is draining rapidly as i type while listening to keith jarrett and lenny kravitz, so i will sign off for now...