Cris in Ethiopia

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Posted by Cris on March 20, 2007

Its been raining now for a few days. Ethiopia is a country that gets two rainy seasons a year, one short one now and a long one in the summer. Three or four months a year it rains here. You’d think people would be used to it, right? Ha!

Last night saw probably the longest rain so far. For maybe 4 or 5 hours. We left work about 8, and went to get in a shared taxi like we usually do. We usually dont have to break stride to find and get in a taxi- they take four people, and it seems the people walking by generate enough demand that you rarely have to wait more than a minute and there is a taxi leaving every minute or so. Last night this was not the case.First, there were no taxis waiting when we arrived. Strange, we thought. Then we noticed the people lined up at the curb- I say lined to describe the physical form their waiting mass made, not to imply that they were by any means “waiting” in a “line”. When a taxi rolled up people would scramble off the curb, run to it, and attempt to open the doors and get in before it even stopped. Ok- I recognize the fact that it was technically raining, but we from the Northwest wouldnt have broken out an umbrella- or even a raincoat- for this piddly show of force from the heavens. Was it necessary to act as if molten lava were raining from the clouds up above? After watching the spectacle of the taxi-jumpers for a few minutes, we decided to walk part way and try to get a taxi part way down the road, away from the crowd and after someone had gotten out of a taxi, leaving an empty spot. It was dark, drizzly, and muddy. There were large puddles. At one point, the sewer drains were backed up, so the whole road and sidewalk were covered in several inches of water, so we jump-waded across. Then we got a taxi.

As I got in, I noticed the distinct smell of old alcohol- the kind lingering at the bottle return place when the homeless people are recycling their catch from the night before. Amy was up front by herself, and I was in back with two women. One woman was talking to the other, laughing about something to do with Amy and I. I knew this by picking out the oft repeated “farenji” in her diatribes. Soon I couldnt really stand it any more. I knew she was talking about us, but I didnt know what she was saying, so I turned to her and said, “Salaam! Denanish?” (Hello! How are you?)  She hearitly replied that she was good, and started laughing more. Then she busts out, “I am at bar, drink beer!” Whoa! I knew that either someone in the taxi had been partaking, or the driver had chosen “old boozer” flavored air freshener. Maybe the driver had been drinking- I wouldnt be toooo surprised. Or young woman in the back with me- maybe. The Old lady in a veil? Never wouldve guessed it was her.  Amy says under her breath, “Oh God, she’s drunk!” “Out of her mind,” I reply. So I say to her, “Oh! Birra! Birra conjo, eh?” (Oh, beer is good, huh?) She again heartily agrees. Then she starts telling Amy that she loves her, and that shes a beautiful girl. By this time everyone in happy, steaming from wet clothes, and enjoying our ride. Then we hear the siren blip behind us.

I look back, and sure enough an ambulance is following us close, blipping its siren, flashing its brights, with the blinky lights on top going full bore. Does our driver speed up, or perhaps get out of the way? Nooooo. He looks in the rearview and continues at the regular taxi speed, which is slightly faster than a trotting donkey. After a minute or two he pulls to the side, finally letting the ambulance pass. Cool- hope nobody died on our account. We reached our destination and said ciao to our new sudsy friend, and went on our way. 

It seems that the first sorta sustained rain of the year has convinced people, most likely only for the short term, that perhaps it isnt the best idea to put all your garbage in the open sewers around here. This is evidenced by the large, reeking, oily-colored piles of unidentified detritus piled up next to the larger storm drains around our neighborhood. It seems people didnt like the fact that the water was unable to push its way through the years worth of plastic, dirty diapers, paper, goat bones, clothes, dead cats, and whatever else, and instead flowed freely in the streets. So… where will the trash go from here? Who knows. That is yet to be seen. My guess? After this short rainy spell itll get shoveled back into the sewer until June, when the same thing will happen, and some poor guy (literally) will have to fish it out, as he was doing this morning.

I thought, before it started, that the rain would make the city cleaner; freshen it up, maybe.  I was wrong- somehow, after several hours of cleansing rain falling, the city looked dirtier than ever this morning (not even counting the piles of sewer trash). The roads were muddy and dusty, the cars splattered, and the street dogs rattier. Another funny thing that both Amy and I noticed independently of one another is that there seemed to be twice the number of beggars out this morning. Why would that be? Another mystery added to the pile in the corner of my brain.

Book recommendation: If anyone wants to read about what Addis is like, while at the same time learning a lot about the AIDS situation here, then read “There Is No Me Without You” by Melissa Fay Greene. It is excellent and really does a good job describing Addis.       


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