By Lydia Haile ’19. Art by Angie Kang ’20.
Addis Ababa is cramming my culture
down my mouth
with a fire hose.
and I am drinking but
maybe I like the watered-down version better
easier to digest — westernized, mixed with English, flattened
what does that say about me?
that I can not hold this down
this place is wonderful but definitely not comfortable.
things I have seen
desert, stretching on for forever
glimmering lakes, gaping caverns, dense lush tropics
trees that flower brighter colors
coils of highways, bridges and smooth gravel
stone neighborhood streets, high heel-proof and consistently uneven
sleek hotels clustered together, with fast wi-fi and good security
towering concrete shells held together with sticks, construction promises left unfulfilled
roosters ambling around corner stores, their webbed feet pattering on rock — crowing to wake me up in the mornings, awaiting their purchase
all the people walking home on Christmas morning, chicken necks clutched between their fingers — the feathers, lolling lightly in the wind
oversize shopping malls — stores stacked up for stories, the clothes just as expensive in dollars as in birr
mansions you would never find in the states
houses that would never pass fire codes in the states
homes like blown up storage crates, all sheet metal and caked dirt
a sea of Toyotas crammed onto the roads, car-door to car-door, their horns singing
horse-drawn carriages, sheep and donkeys walking beside them
skyscrapers next to huts
lighter, less sour injera, more kitfo than I will ever need
burgers that don’t taste like burgers
East and West, clawing at each other, collapsing into each other
neither really winning.
my first good shower in Ethiopia
I prayed before I turned on the faucet
very fervently, very well
and God provided.
hot water is a blessing, a real soul cleanser
or at least a delicate product of water heaters
you turn the handle, but not all the way
and that makes all the difference.
I am a handle that is not all the way turned — not belonging but also not apart
my skin is dull from a year in New England
my Amharic is new and rusted from disuse, mushy and thin-lipped
my feet are always cold in the mornings
and the mosquitoes love me
I brush my teeth with bottled water
there is a richness of culture I can’t fully taste — history and subtleties and nuance lost on my tongue.
At the end of the day, the doro wot tastes the same.
The coffee beans are fresher, but still brew in the same Gebena.
I know how to walk on the cobblestone now, from home to church and back.
I read the street signs passing by and make conversation.
I am not confused all of the time.
I am slowly turning open.