Friday, October 01, 2004

addis. day one.

The day of her arrival in Addis Ababa is a blur, stretching further than an accounting by mere hours would seem to allow: a morning taxi ride from Bole airport made all the more surreal by jet lag and lack of sleep; faces and donkeys and exhaust fumes mingling amidst tin-roofed shacks and condom ads; a room in Taitu Hotel offering a sense of relief (perhaps in apologetic compensation for the subtle yet persistent smell of sewage drifting from the communal toilet one door down); fending off propositions from would-be guides, only to accept one from Adana, a man from Gondar whose charm seems more genuine than predatory and whose English was honed during years of refuge in Kenya. He wins her over during a lunch of injera and bayanitu shared under a tented enclosure, and she agrees to an afternoon jaunt to the top of Entoto Mountain—a destination reached first by crowded, chaotic minibus and then on foot.

They make their ascent beneath the intense rays of the afternoon sun, passing clusters of mountainside huts huddled amongst eucalyptus trees. Their passers-by are many: female firewood carriers whose hunched backs support bundles of sticks weighing many times their own weight; girls bearing clay water jugs half the size of their thin bodies; a man draped in a woolen green cloak, his legs black sticks moving with a steady, un-breaking pace—all making the same labored trek but perhaps for the thousandth time rather than the first and out of a resignation just to do what needs to be done rather than out of a search for recreation and adventure.

Filtering the people around her through a Western gaze, the presence of tremendous burden seems inescapable. Men, women, and children carry loads that appear much heavier than their physical frames can bear. And yet the bearers of these burdens—whether those whose young frames are far more limber than her own or those whose aged bodies are bent and molded by lifetimes of weighted journeys—move as if in a perpetual state of disconnect. This “disconnect” is not a detachment from burden but, rather, from struggle and resistance. Indeed, an awareness of burden—both physical and nonphysical—is simply assumed and seemingly unquestioned. It is only the struggle against it that is markedly absent.

And as she habitually and disappointingly returns to the familiar questions—Where do “I” sit and what do “I” see in the midst of all this?—the grave disappointment comes in realizing that “this” for her is but a dream, an unreality (or, rather, someone else’s reality but definitely not her own). She is free to revel in the richness and beauty and intensity of all that surrounds her despite the fact—or perhaps because—it is not her own. She is but a transient, wayward watcher filtering and processing and imagining and constructing the realities of others. And thus she has traveled halfway around the world only to discover that the weighted comfort of her own life—a routinized comfort that she is ever-restless yet ever-resistant to escape—still rests upon her shoulders.


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