Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ode to Addis: Taggy & Co. Visit Abyssinia

Taggy & Co. Visit Abyssinia: These are my impressions of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which I visited with my family for a few days around August 2014.

The good life is good but the simple life is amazing. 

On vacation, I usually seek basic necessities peppered with creature comforts and a splurge or two. So when I walked into the simple "villa" in Addis, I was a little skeptical.
The metal doors clanged loudly, most of the lights weren't working and the faucets did not respond to a simple command (you had one job). The landlord assured us that the water would be back by lunchtime (like it had gone on an errand) and the "groundskeeper" lady would replace the light bulbs and see to our needs.

Little did we know that in 3 days, we were talking about negotiating purchase of this bungalow that hit our family in all the right places.

The boys were fascinated by the small porch and rocky yard. We asked them to stay away from the overgrown garden but that didn't stop us from gazing at it lovingly, resting our eyes from the harshness of dry Khartoum.

The day we left home, the rains had started in Khartoum, so although it wasn't dry per se, nature remained conspicuously absent. The purpose of this trip to Addis was to reconnect with nature. Not camping or hiking reconnect but tree, grass and the occasional mountain reconnect.

We wanted our family to experience something different from the vicious cycle that was long work days followed by collapsing in our concrete box of an apartment. I wanted the boys to know that life as they know it, is not the definition of life. They needed to understand and appreciate different cultures, different worlds. I hoped that they could see a rainbow.

I am always surprised and offended how visitors and tourists look down on countries they are visiting.
"The food is not edible". Such arrogance! 
A more accurate phrase would be "I was not able to appreciate their cuisine" "It was too spicy for my palate" or something similar. The failing is yours, I assure you. Don't blame the vanilla if you prefer the chocolate.
You don't go to another country to be snide; you go as a guest, behave yourself accordingly. 
I noted how the place smelled different than what I was accustomed to; I assumed we smelled different to them too. Any public transportation system anywhere in the world will confirm that every nation has a particular "scent" so I wouldn't be too smug, my fellow tourist; you smell too.

Then we come to the effortless beauty of Ethiopia. The grace, the languid movement that does not hide the energy within. It's like watching a resting panther. The people move slowly and gracefully but you feel they can start running or break into dance in a heartbeat. 

I would have been more intimidated by the gorgeous physiques that surrounded me, had I believed they were in any way attainable. Seeing as I am not delusional, I absorbed the beauty like any appreciative star gazer.

The faces that surrounded me spoke to me of the heart of Africa, the kingdoms of Abyssinia. Regal, natural and effortless. My husband remarked at the absence of bleached complexions. I replied that they were comfortable within themselves, which is how I would describe the Ethiopia I saw. Unpretentious. Unassuming. Confident. 
They did not need pomp and circumstance so they did not seek it.

Our groundskeeper would leave early in the morning, wearing a crisp white shirt over her tight jeans. A black leather jacket and knit beret for warmth, carrying a compact umbrella for protection against the flash showers and she was ready to go. Her simple "look" will never be achieved by fashionista wannabes the world over.

One of the many tragedies of Sudan is nothing is effortless. Some Sudanese strive for Western culture, others dream of oil riches and the associated trappings and an attitude of discontentment is pervasive.

I absorbed this natural culture, this practical land. The beat up cars spoke to me of a pride not to be found in the shiny modern cars of Khartoum and their crippling installments. The glorious crowns of natural hair reflected a freedom that my flat iron will never give me.

I came across a few unnatural blondes and contrived curls but in my newfound theory these were an attempt to compensate for paunches and love handles. They were still breathtakingly beautiful. Men and women that were not beautiful in a "traditional sense" were still full of grace.

Inexplicably, the beauty and confidence that surrounded me, made me feel beautiful and confident. Like my subconscious had decided that I was looking in reflections. One would assume I would feel inadequate and secure but walking those streets, I too became an African queen.

Oh, Addis. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? What hidden treasure had we stumbled upon? Why were people seeking Atlantis or El Dorado? Addis was home to raw gems that shone in their natural habitat, in a cloudy backdrop of mist and rolling green mountains.

I cannot ignore the beggars that filled the streets. Their hard faces, dull eyes, clothes caked in mud. Their grace was well hidden, buried beneath their hard life and rags. Several were obviously organized, working in tandem. Life in Khartoum taught me what signs to look for when it comes to beggar gangs.

We saw one European man tackle a thief and pry his mobile phone out of the youth's hands. We held our children closer but that scene was probably being replicated in the gentleman's hometown so we did not feel overly threatened.

I felt that we had stumbled upon a magical land that was quaint without being genteel. It reminded me of Zanzibar, which my parents and I had called our second home for a few years.

I know I was looking through tourist goggles, I know the reality of their lives forces them to seek their livelihoods abroad, like us Sudanese and I know that I could never comprehend the challenges they face at a glance. But I wanted to see beauty and peace and serenity and joy and Addis Ababa gave me all that and then some. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you, honor and cherish you.