Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Traveling Back to Ethiopia Part 2

I have no idea how many parts there will be to this story, just so you know. I'm just going to keep telling stories til I run out... So thanks for coming along for the ride!

Part 1 here.

The thing I love best about Africa is the way it smells. Ohmygoodness, it is so delicious and wonderful. Not delicious the way a bakery smells, or the top of a baby's head. But wonderful and exciting and decidedly African. I remember walking out of the airport in Addis Ababa for the first time one morning three years ago and just being overwhelmed with happiness. Here I was, about to meet my children for the first time, and the air was fragrant with joy.

When you walk out of the airport in New York you get walloped by the stench of jet fuel, stale coffee and cigarettes. In my favorite corners of the city the smell is lovely- a mixture of grass and spring flowers, hot dogs, warm pretzels and brick. It smells old and full of history.  But it will quickly become overpowered by a passing garbage truck or a dog being walked.

When you walk out of the airport in Addis the mountains are there before you in sunshine and it smells perfectly intensly African: dust and smoke and flowers.

We arrived this time early in the morning. It had just rained, so the air was clear and the flowers bright.  Everything was blooming. The capital of Ethiopia- Addis Ababa - means, "New Flower." I imagine the name was chosen in April, when all the flowers are in bloom and the mountains are green with possibility.

The perfect smell of Ethiopia is created by two things: the smoke of burning trash, and an abundance of flowering trees caused by the almost year round sunshine. Ethiopia is a study in contrasts. I find it beautiful and challenging. I can understand that some people find it challenging and distressing.

Here are the shacks made of corrugated tin, discarded building materials and mud.  Here are the satellite dishes on the roofs.

Here is the path, rutted and filled with waste. Here is the carefully and brightly painted gate to someone's home.

Here is the sky scraper, glinting in the sun. Here are the donkeys, loaded with wares for the market.

Here is the sunshine, the mountains, the running clouds. Here is the sky clogged with dust from construction projects, burning trash and car exhaust.

Here is the goat, tied to the roof of a taxi. He will be an Easter feast tonight. Here is the homeless man, wounded and desperate. Here is the young boy, selling small painted trays in the dirt. Here are the women in the marketplace carefully making small neat piles of onions and garlic to sell.  Here is the tiny unlit shack selling bread and stew. Here is the sink propped up on cement blocks  outside to wash your hands in. Here is the coffee, brewed over open coals, served in a tiny chipped cup. Here is the tea stall, set up under a broken tarp. The table is a plastic box. The chairs are stones.  Here is the hot cup of tea and the fragrant roll, fresh.

Everything, everything all mixed up together. Beauty and tragedy and history and future.

As you fly into the Addis Ababa airport you will see the rusted remains of older airplanes sitting in the overgrown grass in the center of the runway.  Ethiopian airways is one of the most highly regarded airlines in Africa. Addis is a hub for most of Northern and Eastern Africa. They just opened up direct routes to China.  They have beautiful, shiny new jets.  But why clear out the old rusted relics? They are there too.

I miss that smell.

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