I just got back from a week in Djibouti City with its heat and humidity. During the hottest part of the day, it’s over 100 degrees with humidity about 55-60%. That puts the Heat Index over 120. It was like having a giant magnifying glass above. But, it was a good trip. I got a lot done and Terese got to relax at the 5 star hotel.
When we went to the restaurant on the hill the other night, Hiwot greeted Terese with not two, not three, but four kisses on the cheek! To give you an idea of what this means, I have never seen anyone get more than three. … and I got the usual smile. But in many places in the world a smile is priceless, especially for old farts like me.
Last time we visited her, she announced she had delivered her first baby. (See below posting), so Terese and I gave her a card telling her how proud we are of her bringing a precious life to the world, and enclosed 1000 birr as a gift. ($55)
She told us she has since delivered several more babies and even did the suturing on the mothers. There are times in my life I am glad I’m male.
She told us she took her teacher out for lunch with some of the money we gave her, and showed her the card Terese gave her. I am convinced, what we give in Life we receive back many times over. That is true for both the good we do, as well as the harm. Sitting with her and Terese, only understanding every 5th word of the conversation, made me feel very good in what we do in our lives. I only wish we could help more people like Hiwot. Perhaps in the future.
Unfortunately, an incident took place at the hospital where she is training, that has put her in harm’s way. While taking blood from an HIV patient, the patient flexed her finger and shot blood into Hiwot’s eye. Hiwot was smart not to rub it, but quickly took a syringe of saline and flooded her eye with it. She now has to take heavy medication for a month. Heavy enough that she has a hard time staying awake at work. She will be checked for the HIV virus every week, for a year; and watched closely for several more years. She also found out the patient has done that to several other nurses – on purpose.
Now a change of subject. This last weekend was the 50th anniversary of the AU (African Union). It was no simple celebration as many countries have arrived for the commemoration, and has been in the planning for several years; and when you add the US Secretary of State visiting at the same time, it’s been a very busy month for the US Embassy. Luckily, I was not involved in any part of the preparation, which is well, because we actually have a four day weekend and I have grown to love my weekends in Africa.
As I start on this update, I am at my favorite place for writing in Addis Ababa, the lounge on the 6th floor of the Boston building, where below I can see the traffic on Bole Street in all its confusion. At one point, while typing away, two members of the Militia came up to the floor and went outside to the terrace with their AK-47s. The AK-47 is the most common automatic weapon in the world, sometimes called the Kalashnikov. It is the true assault weapon, not like the type the media portrays. Many times when a member of the Al-Qaeda is apprehended, they possess the AK-47. It’s a weapon designed and built by the Soviets.
Why am I telling you this? Let me take a quick break here and explain something. It is a well known fact in the Diplomatic Community, that most soldiers in foreign countries are not men of intelligence. This is not to knock these good people, but to make a point. Many in the Ethiopian Militia cannot read or write, but they can use force when necessary and even when it’s not; plus, they have the AK-47 that can do a great deal of harm when they panic. So, a smile to these men helps cool any potential friction, which I gladly gave them. They did not return the gesture.
So, I am writing about Hiwot, when I notice the sound of the traffic below has subsided. I cautiously stick my head out on the terrace, as one of the guards is posted there, while the second went around on the balcony to the other side.
Looking down to the street, it was completely dead. No vehicles, and the pedestrians that continually cross the street, even in front of traffic, were standing on the sides. About every 100 feet or so, there were Militia standing with their weapons and clubs, facing away from the street. Something was happening. Then I started looking out among all the other buildings, and from where I stood, I could see over 20 additional armed men within sight.
Now, the best way to explain the feeling here, is comparing this street to somewhere in the US. This is Bole Street. For those who are familiar with University Ave. in Lubbock, it would be like having that street suddenly empty, or Commerce Street in Dallas, or Pennsylvania Ave in DC. Even these are not right, because it does not exhibit the usual pedestrian fiasco with Bole.
The street remained empty for another 15 minutes, and then I heard the faint sound of a siren. Suddenly in view, a motorcycle sped by leading a motorcade. With sirens blaring and lights flashing. Most of the cars were black Mercedes with flags on their fenders. In seconds it was gone. I expected the street to return to its chaos, but it did not.
Within a minute, another motorcade flew past. Then another and another. For over an hour, motorcades whizzed past. Some just a few cars and some had dozens, with ambulances and military vehicles intermixed. Many had dark crimson, Mercedes limousines. I have seen some of these up close. They look normal, but if you know what to look for, you will see they are armored. They are not like the silly stretch limos you see at high school proms.
Watching this parade, I wondered if I could have gotten into my vehicle with diplomatic tags, turned on my lights and pulled in behind one of them. – Probably wouldn’t have gotten far.
I slowly stepped out to the terrace where the guard was posted to get a better view of this, and wondered how long he would let me stand out there with him. When Zinash (hostess) came out to see if I needed anything, she went and talked to the militia standing guard, then came over and told me he wanted me to stay inside. Maybe he thought I would throw rocks or something, but I will not argue with the good man, as there are plenty of windows to look out of. Besides, just as I came inside, the rain came.
At one point, I saw an unusual thing. As the motorcades were passing by, they slowed down and pulled over to the side, but kept moving. Then, another high speed motorcade passed them! And all went back to normal. I guess that was the Express motorcade.
Another time, the pedestrians were getting antsy as they were waiting to cross the street. At a pause in the motorcades, one side just decided to take off across the street. I could sense the panic on the militia as they raised their clubs. It didn’t matter. It was en mass. And then to add to the disorder, a donkey took off running with everyone leaving its master trying to catch up. As it crossed one side, it decided to take off down the street, against the flow of the motorcades. With three militia trying to get the animal off the street, and the master just trying to catch up, I was reminded of the Keystone Cops. Luckily, the critter made it off safely; but can you imagine the embarrassment of a donkey getting hit by a diplomatic motorcade? Yeah, I know, this is Africa.
It was really an amazing thing to see, as these convoys contained delegates from all over the world to witness the celebration of the AU. This type of disruption in traffic in not uncommon with Addis, as it is the Capitol of Ethiopia and the Seat of the African Union. Traffic can be blocked for an hour, and sometimes there is no way out of the holding pattern if you are stuck in it.
But I think somewhere up the road, someone let the traffic loose early, as vehicles began flooding the street with the motorcades. After a few minutes, somewhere down the road, the traffic was forced to stop, and the motorcades had to use the opposite lanes. With the sudden infusion of traffic, it would require another hour to displace. Glad I’m not leaving anytime soon.
Zinash, the Hostess in the lounge, is wearing a beautiful African dress for the 50th AU anniversary, so I asked her if I can take her picture for my 94 year old mother who loves Africa. (I use that request often) She agreed.
After the motorcade parade had ceased, the owner of the building came in and brought what appeared to be several diplomats with him. I felt a little out of place with my denim jeans, western boots and comfortable wrinkled white shirt, smoking a cigar, drinking cheap whiskey and typing away on my diminutive computer. But as they looked over at me, I politely smiled and they nodded and smiled back.
When Zinash went to wait on them, I noticed she went to her owner’s quests and greeted them first, then greeted the owner himself. People like Zinash are born diplomats like my wife.
More and more people came to the 6th floor, making me feel more out of place. I am convinced, if my wife was with me, they would have invited her to their gathering, leaving me as the solitude guy sitting at the table with cigar and empty drink.
I love Africa, even with all its traffic and its nonsensical actions. It is a world of innocence and amuse. Its people are beautiful in so many ways, even in ways that drive us nuts. I will sincerely miss them and the land they inhabit.