Thursday, November 18, 2004

tamene, bahir dar

My first afternoon with Tamene is lost—or perhaps found—in a rush of bike-riding around Bahir Dar. Perched precariously atop a wobbly seat, my tennis shoes barely grazing the pedals, I follow Tamene’s lead as he weaves through people and cars on wide, palm-lined avenues and dusty back streets.

We make our way out of town and veer off onto an unpaved road leading toward a cluster of small cement buildings. We enter one, the home of two of Tamene’s friends, where five or six young men sit circling a small, low table. Greetings and introductions exchanged, we ease our way into a weekend afternoon of chat-chewing and card-playing. Making plans to meet up later rather than linger long with our hosts, we soon ease our way out again and head toward the small room where Tamene lives several dirt paths away.

Side by side on the thin mattress that rests upon his floor, we talk about families and lovers and futures. He speaks of the beautiful girl whose portrait gazes down from the far wall—the girlfriend who he had hoped to marry, now living another life in another world. Finding passage to America by way of “false marriage,” she passes her days in Alexandria, Virginia. I find the place name eerily and unsettlingly familiar as I sit here with this man for whom it its a mere abstraction—a return address on the last letter from the girl who was once here by his side.


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