Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ethiopia Trip #2

March 24, 2007
Ethiopia snuck up on me. As our plane landed at two this morning, all I could see were straight lines of streetlights. It didn’t look like Africa. It looked like any number of cities I’ve flown into in the United States.

The drive to the hotel was quick, and the dark streets were empty. My sleep-deprived mind processed little. Dark buildings. Road signs. Flickering orange lights lined the sidewalks.

But this morning, Ethiopia woke up, long before I opened my gauzy hotel curtains. A slum spread out below me. It must have been asleep last night—sleeping off the day of hunger, disease and poverty.

On the drive to lunch, I said little, my eyes trained on the streets teeming with people. I tried not to stare. I averted my eyes as people peered into our van—ashamed at my comfortable clothes, wallet full of wrinkled cash, even the color of my skin. But the sights kept drawing me back. The old men, their bodies twisted, dragging themselves along the sidewalks. The women, regal in their colorful dresses, heads held high. The children—so many children! They darted in front of cars, their dusty bodies gray in the bright sunshine.

I couldn’t shake the images. As I sat with my two new Ethiopian friends, the sound of their foreign words bouncing off my still tired brain, the city spread out below us, my mind continued to feebly process.

“You’re too quiet,” my friends teased. I just smiled at their observation. I couldn’t process it all.

Gradually, the initial—not shock, but lack of understanding—begin to clear. “Pace yourself,” I told myself as I sipped thick papaya juice. “It’s just your first day.”

So here I sit, at the pool at my hotel. Naked children scream and splash. My white skin stands out less here. But I know that just on the other side of the dense green trees and shrubs that shield me, there is another world. One rife with poverty.

A country of people whose story I am to tell.

A country of people who have already crept into my heart.

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