I had grandiose plans for how I would spend my free afternoons in Addis. I would have injera and wot at a local restaurant for 20 birr before setting out down Churchill Avenue taking in the Piazza, San Giyorgis Church and Menelik Square: walking all the way down to Le Gare at the south end. If I was tired or time was running short, I would take a blue taxi back to the guest house, and save the walk on Ras Mekonnen, Sidist Kilo and Arat Kilo for another day. I would be very frugal, and avoid spending money needlessly on the driver.
My frustration mounted during the first Sunday in Addis as my expectations were dashed one by one, and with them it seemed my autonomy was being brutally snatched from me. When I asked where I could get injera and wot for my first lunch the driver informed me that he would take me to the buffet at the Semien Hotel and wait while I ate. I already knew that this one meal would use up most of what I had budgeted for food, but there seemed to be no choice. At least it was less than I would have been charged for the cheeseburger at the guest house, and the wot was delicious.
That afternoon it also became clear that we were not expected to leave the property unescorted at any time. The life that I had carefully built was falling like a card house. My childhood, teenage, and young adult life was so full of choices made for me by parents, teachers, and pastors representing god. I so deliberately demolished the paradigm, learned to make my own choices and stand by them. I can’t even stay at someone else’s house on vacation without starting to feel smothered. My own dear jc would rarely dream of even suggesting what I should do. But it comes down to this. Everything has been decided for me.
snap out of itI took my cryptic crossword and sat on the tile stoop next to our 25 square feet of green grass and decided to be happy. I spotted pigeons very like the elusive band-tailed pigeons of the Florida keys sitting on the light post, a larger version of what reminded me of a magpie with white bib and wing patches squawking and chasing each other, small grey sparrows with a striking white eyebrow eating crumbs out of the flowerbed, and fork-tailed eagles in soaring play overhead. I refused the gatekeeper's offer of a chair, truthfully asserting that I was comfortable on the stoop, and taking comfort in my decision making. I watched the daily flow of traffic back and forth down the cobble alley behing the guest house: women in high heels and business attire next to school children in uniform, women in headscarves and traditional dresses, but more in pants. I took comfort in the normalcy of the scene, and I reminded myself: the purpose of this trip is not my pleasure, but to make the precious boy who cuddles so sweetly into my arms my son.
And that is what I will do.