Dark eyes teeming with purpose
Strong arms holding a sickle
Bare feet stepping into the fields of plenty
A man ready to receive the gifts of nature
You kneel down and touching the soil
You remember furrowing her body
Not to hurt but to make love
To what sustains you
When the first drops of sweat
Fall to touch hers
You know you are close
To your purpose
Young man, she whispers
I am full of life to be shared
Take all and I promise to grow a flower
Everywhere you touch me
You need to cherish these blossoms
For you will always come back
Into her arms
All the town´s secrets. You will hear them only if you listen carefully. Places that will open if you stay long enough. Beauty. Genius loci. Surprises. The transformation is already underway but these places and their people are still there. For a while. For all the future memories. For me. Forever. Addis Ababa, I love you.
Through one of its eight creaking doors, I am entering a vast brown-and-green hall with high ceilings and sleepy lighting. The interior is equipped modestly with long wooden tables and benches on both sides. There is no one inside, I realize, except of me, the saints on the walls and a man dressed in white clothes sitting at the other end of the hall.
“Shall we dance?” somebody asks me from behind my back. I turn but do not see anyone to reply to. It is only when I turn back that I spot a male figure standing in front of the opposite door. It starts moving towards me slowly, limping on one leg. It is a man in an army uniform emerging from the shadow, a man with an expression-less face as he approaches, and a man with an ice-cold touch when he eventually grabs my hand and puts it on his shoulder. He asks no more, just leads me into a strange dance in which we stand still in the middle of the room accompanied by a voice singing a story about Tafari Banti, the Hero.
In the meanwhile, a toothless company of shriveled old geezers gathers in the corner under St. Mary´s picture to be served honey-wine by a boy in a blue working coat. He asks the customers for money but they shake their heads. “We paid for these drinks long time ago.” The song continues.
“It´s going to cost you at least five Meskerem blossoms then!” The boy demands being obviously desperate. “Hrough Hrough Hrough!!!” Instead of a response the male chorus produces a hoarse laughter crinkling all the wrinkles in their faces. Only after they cannot laugh further one of them utters: “It´s almost Tahisas, young man, Meskerem flowers withered long time ago!” “Is it really that late?” The boy looks out through a greasy window but the only thing he can see is a lonely bone hanging on a hook in the butcher´s kiosk. Starring into nowhere, he announces silently: “Dear guests, we are closing.”
“No, no, no!” Another actor emerges from behind the scenes, staggering and throwing arms around himself in a dangerous gesture. Fill my glass to the top for the last time, or I will beat you up!” The man threatens the boy.
“Fighting or not, we all have to leave now.” The boy replies and walks away through one of the doors, followed by an empty glass and the angry drunkard.
The old men get up silently and depart each through a different exit.
It is time for me too to untie from my dance partner who walks away through the same door I saw him entering.
Before I leave, I go shake hands with the singer. He stands up and bows. “Walk for humanity” it says on his forehead before he doffs off his white cap and sits down again to finish his glass. The storyteller leaves last.
„Veronika, come here! Wash your body!“ she´d say in her basic English standing in the backyard of their house.
So I approached her obediently to strip in front of her, keeping only my underpants on. She pointed me to a large metal bowl in the grass which was to become my bath. So I squatted down into it and waited till she returned to me with a big pot of steaming water from the fire place. From a small plastic jug I would then receive a hot shower while feeling the morning breeze wrapping my naked body into a long coat blowing my shyness away into the trees, and further to the mountain tops on the horizon. Also our joint laughter travelled far with the wind that morning of baptism, when she brushed my back with her hands determined to get me rid of the peeling suntanned skin which she held for dirt.
At nights I lie next to her on the ground watching her mouth move silently as she studies from school books holding a pocket torch above them. Her humbleness, intellect and dedication radiating through every pore of her face are so beautiful that I cannot stop watching. Every time I try to close my eyes for sleep something calls my gaze back to her. These nights she would be everyone for me – a princess, a surgeon, a supermodel, a student at Oxford, my sister. And yet I am fully aware who she is. She is a bright 15-year old Ethiopian country girl, the oldest daughter of a farmer who plants grains and beans, a pupil of local elementary school, a helping hand for her mother and a caring sister for her siblings. Someone, whose life I entered on one sunny morning for the purposes of my research about farming, I thought, just to realize later on that the main reason why I came to be here was in fact to meet her.
“Veronika, I admire you!” She told me smiling when I returned to her family for the second time to continue my research.
– “Why?” I asked.
“Because you come back to my family. You not forget!”
And I trembled by knowing that I meant the world for her.
I fell asleep this afternoon while bathing in the warming grace of the setting sun, dreaming about about icy roads with cars buried in snow. And I got up smelling a mango pie from the oven and remembered all those lovely sweets made home for Christmas… And I was happy to know: Mum, I´ll be back in time for your Christmas mushroom pie!
The sun was just rising with an old man resting on a stool in front of his little kiosk. Through the open counter you could see sacks of flour, red lentils and unroasted coffee and above them, in colorful rows, bottles of oil and water, right next to soaps and detergents all jointly bending into a reversed rainbow on a thin wooden plank. At the first sight, this kiosk was no different from the rest in town.
A little boy suddenly emerges from around the corner of the street carrying a green bucketful of water almost bigger than him. He stumbles bravely across the stony path splashing water into the dust. After some steps he pauses for a while to let a donkey pass and to rearrange his grip. By the time he reaches his grandfather, there is only little water left in the pot, yet the boy places it proudly on the ground in front the sitting man and turns his concentrated sight towards his face, in anticipation of a reaction. The old man, as if not noticing the little boy and the whole adventure, just rolls up the sleeves of his long white shirt, and dives his hands into the water. Taking a palm full he reaches towards his face, and with a slow movement lets the water flow down the skin and through his dense, long beard. The boy is still, starring with an open mouth.
When the old man opens his eyes again he finally looks at the boy. With a nod he signs him to come and sit on his lap while making sure his kufi is sitting straight. So the boy crawls up into the wide embrace of the man whose gaze has now turned soft and kind. He wants to take the tiny hands of the boy in his own but notices one of them is clenched into a fist. It opens voluntarily for him though and lets the palm reveal its treasure. It is a little pendant, an aluminum cross with five engraved circles in it. The man frowns.
“This is a Christian cross” he says.
– “I found it“ says the boy, copying the shape of the pendant with his tiny forefinger.
“What do you want to do with it?” asks the man.
– “It´s for you!” exclaims the boy.
“What shall I do with a cross?”
– “It´s not a cross, it´s a map… It´s a map and this is you” and he point at the circle in the middle.
The old man´s eyes look surprised and they settle on the pendant for a while. Then his mouth moves into a slight smile while stroking the head of the boy with a loving gesture…
It´s Tuesday morning and Megenagna appears even more desperate than usual. Just like every day she is dirty with stains of all kinds of human excretion, but the night storm has brought an extra burden into her already overstretched muscles. Pale mud is now bleeding out of all the body´s open wounds. There is not much time you can spend thinking about her pains though, as there are buses speeding, cars honking, dredgers digging, people clashing, beggars begging, puddles splashing, garbage rolling and exhaust fuels suffocating. Megenagna is sick but all you can do is to keep running away until the progress covers her wounds with a new solution. And the progress is clearly underway.
There is a particularly painful abscess right in the center of Megenagna. Today and yesterday and maybe tomorrow this spot, dominated by a jar for money in the forefront, is reserved for a lying man who´s head is hidden under a piece of rag. His shaking feetless legs and crinkled arms give the impression of leading and independent life besides the torso captured in cramps. His honest palms, wrinkled by thousand lines, are open towards the sky.
Last week on the same spot and same dirty blanket there used to lie another man with closed eyes and an open shirt. Right in the area where you would put your hand if you wanted to feel his heartbeat, there was a festering ulcer of the size of your palm who´s colors resembled a carefully worked-out mosaic, now cracking in several parts. It actually seemed like his chest was opening for the heart to come out. I wonder where this man has gone, now that his position is casted by another dying person.
I wonder: who is bringing these people into the street?
I wonder: who is the owner of the one dirty blanket?
I wonder: would these people stand up if they could?
I wonder: who is the one being sick?
I wonder how to stand up.
I´ve passed this strange tiny house couple of times before, but so far always without paying attention to what was happening in the dim light of its interior. So this time, I dare to slow down and separate myself from the crowd heading elsewhere. The entrance, which has just released two women each holding a heavy cotton bag, is in fact just a hole between two corrugated irons. There are only three stairs to climb before I can peek into the darkness hoping that my eyes would soon adjust from the outside sun. Though suddenly my nose starts to twitch making me realize that what´s blinding me is in fact sort of white powder which the inside air is completely soaked in! And suddenly aaaaaaaah! An Ethiopian snowman arises from nowhere and jumps right in front of me, his coal eyes looking straight into mine, his white lashes winking and three teeth grinning at me. “Welcome!” says the white man in Amharic into my open mouth, “we´ve been expecting you!” And he signs me to enter.
There are heaps of teff grains everywhere and an old milling machine dancing eskista across the room while sneezing clouds of flour covering everything and everyone in white. Two other snowmen are kneeling on the ground accompanied by a flock of tiny red birds hopping and pecking around… Without a single doubt, this must the Wonderland.
Though, as soon as the men spot the stranger, they immediately interrupt their work and the birds too, startle. Despite being among my own race here, my presence still remains one of interference with the natural flow of local activities. These people smile at me shortly though, and continue their work. So I crouch down in the corner and watch the magical composition happen.
Their rough hands are first letting the grains shake through a fine sieve to separate stones and straw. The sifted grains are then falling straight into a wooden container sized to fit the men´s shoulder-width when held by both hands. Once full, this container is set into a circular motion which lifts the husks to the surface and makes them gather in the middle like plankton in the sea of grains. This makes it easy to remove them from the rest, as the last step before milling. The men´s entire arms and upper bodies are joining into this spherical movement, shifting space, shifting clouds, shifting me. Frustrated by the opacity of my NGO office work at this moment, I´m fascinated by the simplicity of their noble tasks, and the art they are using to accomplish it. With bare feet firmly on the ground, eyes soft but focused and hands touching the essence of life, they are clearly enabling a transformation that makes human existence on Earth possible.
While the Autumn blows into the feathers of passage birds a message:
It´s soon time to fly to the other homes!
The Abyssinian lion looks up towards the sky and growls:
It´s time for the rainy times to cease.
While stories of the summer are ripening into legends in people´s gardens
and Apple pies are baked to celebrate the heroes, their battles, passion and death,
New Adventures are sprouting under the same sun
to mature in their own rhythm and fruit.
While leafs are falling dead on tired soils
as a duvet for the winter rest,
A new flower is opening: