Story and Photo by Sarah Dittmore
I get exhausted quickly when I weave my way through the center of Addis Ababa. My legs get sore, my tummy aches, and my eyes droop. Navigating the crowded streets, I am overwhelmed by the smell of feces. On my way from the bus stop, I pass a man balancing a head full of CDs who tries to convince me I need some traditional Ethiopian music. I turn away only to see another man two feet away rushing towards me with his pile of discs. I flash a weak smile and continue up the street, ignoring the voices calling at me in English and Amharic, trying to get my attention. I stop at the corner where two women sit every day selling tissues, pens, cigarettes, and lighters. I grab two packs of tissues, hand one of them five birr, and tell her to keep the change, equivalent to half a penny. Her eyes widen and she stammers a thank you as I walk away.
As I approach the 20 minibuses parked along the street, I pass a man preaching Christian Orthodoxy and asking for money. I hear a call for Madenellum and crawl into the only open seat in the back of his bus. I settle in between a man who’s grinning and a woman in a long-sleeved shirt, a floor-length skirt, and a scarf covering her hair. She smiles at me and says something in Amharic to her friend. They giggle and steal periodic glances in my direction. Two seats in front of me, a young couple coos at their new baby.
It’s a long drive, so I immediately direct my eyes out the window. Wealthier women walk with umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. Young boys whip lazy cows and sheep that refuse to move. I feel a tap on my shoulder and hand two birr to the boy standing and yelling our destination out the window.
The bus in front of us starts honking at sheep blocking the road. Our driver joins the clamor until one of the herders grabs the slowest sheep’s back legs and uses the animal like a wheelbarrow to clear the rest out of the street. Two more passengers climb into the bus while we watch the scene, making the 11-passenger van now at 15.
I get out in Madenellum and see the same man who hangs out at the station every day. He wheels an old woman in a wheelchair towards me. She holds her hand and looks longingly towards my purse, which I hold close to my chest. Behind her I can see the boy in the sweatshirt and the man with the robes that ask me for money every day. They watch me talk to the woman, hoping today will be the day I give in and take out my wallet.
A few more minibuses arrive and I jump in one when I hear calls of “Asko.” I spend the drive counting the number of shops and cafés I recognize, adding to my mental list. I know when we’re getting close because the traffic slows and the road construction starts. We make it through the gravel stretch and drive for less than a minute on the few feet of pavement that have been laid in the last four months.
We roll to a stop and unload at the gas station, and I start walking home. A group of teenage boys walking the other way tell me they love me and that they see me in their dreams. I keep walking with an exhausted smile plastered on my face as my biggest fan sings, “My wife! Just one kiss! Please! Please!” I continue up the hill, rounding another corner to see a group of school children playing a version of tetherball that uses feet instead of hands.
They notice me and one of the boys waves and re-
cites, “Hello Sarah, how are you?”
His friends ask my name as they do every day. “Sarah,” I reply. They all giggle and repeat it to one another.
I look up and see my bedroom window. I rush to the gates and pull them open, finally reaching the sanctuary of home. Inside, 15 faces turn toward me. “Miss! Miss!” the five year olds call, surrounding me with hugs and singing the songs I’ve taught them. I had been planning to take a nap, but instead I sink to the floor and spend the next half hour singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”
This story appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Baedeker.