addis and all that.
Mar 25.13 (note….this blog s continuing on “jamesmaskalyk.com”)
Pulled the muslin gauze over the face of a fifteen year old boy, and walked away from the wails, down the hospital’s dark halls to find some air. In a doorway a woman with bright sequins on her hijab smiled at me, a beautiful baby on her hip. Framed by a window, two lovers held hands, looking at the city that stretched below. I put my hands on the sill beside them, and leaned out. The air was sweet.
Welcome to the broken, beating heart of the world. Not Ethiopia, I mean, but the one inside this present moment. Thing is, you can’t hold it back even if you try, so you let it in and it does its thing, breaks you down, brick by brick, until there is nothing left between you and it, and just then, at your most vulnerable, it surrenders itself to you in a sweet embrace, holds you in the perpetual centre, moves you, whispers “it will be ok, even death, even that. ” Maybe, if you’re lucky, even that whisper fades. On that day: freedom.
I almost drowned once, or so I tell myself. Everyone has a story like this. A current had given me access to part of the ocean I didn’t deserve, carried me out past the break into huge, rolling swells. I sat there on my board, watching them crash, rocked up and down like on an elevator. I decided that they were too big, that I would wait for a reprieve, and paddle in on their wash. I turned around to watch the thin line of the horizon, and saw the crumble of a wave breaking behind me. In that white foam, doom. I turned my board broadside, the worst move, and was caught and dashed straight down. Every time I started to see brightness, my leash would rip me blacker. I couldn’t reach it to set my leg free. Breathe. Don’t breathe. Breathe. Don’t breathe. Like that. For long seconds, I didn’t know up. Finally, tumbling, I let myself go loose, and waited. Brightness. Gasping. Like everything, in that, a lesson. You can’t fight the ocean because as soon as you’re in it, you’re part of it, so roll.
That same ocean hammers on the tin above me. Between its thunder, I can hear faint music. Strings, a woman’s, then taptaptaptap. A lull, and the song floats in, mixing perfectly with the weather until it picks up. Harmony.
I’ve arrived to Addis a day or two ago. On my first morning, I woke myself from a deep, dreamless sleep, blinking the heavy lids of jetlag. My body, familiar with the feeling from all the shifts and travel, made no complaint, and pushed itself up, and out the door.
I am staying on Addis’ most famous street, Bole road. It runs from the airport, to Meskel Square, a broad plaza where the best runners in the world start their mornings, zagging over the rows of bleachers that if run from end to end are exactly ten kilometres. I’ve passed them at the 5 in the morning (in a car), and they are not jogging, but running towards it at top speed, some barefoot, on black asphalt.
Not on Bole, though. It is torn to pieces. It is being rebuilt in preparation for the African Union’s 50th anniversary in May. Like so much of this city, it is in construction. Cranes dangle on the city skyline. Train stations are being pushed together, rows of old houses pushed apart, replaced with ones with plumbing, electricity. This century is going to be Africa’s, and in no small part, Ethiopia’s. The anniversary is a nod to the past, but in this place, in this country, all eyes are on the future.
Mine too. It’s why I came. I’m here to work myself out of a job. Teach medicine well enough so it can be taught, then I just come home and relaaax. Whatever that is.
I walked out into the morning sun and picked my way along the busted rock. Ahead of me, a woman stepped deftly, wearing heels, boulder by boulder, bag balanced on her shoulder. Her eyes stayed forward. She didn’t teeter, not once.
That’s the city. Not really my thing, or so i tell myself, but it’s where I often am. I would rather be in the bush, i say. In Sudan, or the papaya orchard I called home in Cambodia. This is where the people are, though, and they are streaming here, fast, running towards the future. With them, the young doctors who will pick them up when they fall and put them back together, the ones who will greet the centennial with grins, shakes of their gray head, “remember when…”.
Though some battles are being fought in the bush, I think it’s here where it will be won.
I’ll see the young doctors who will do it tomorrow at morning report. It gives them hope that I keep coming back, that I’m true to my word. Of course, it’s them who inspire me. Though I don’t know if the future will grace them with the cover of Time magazine, to me, they are the most famous people in the world. Who else? Really? That guy? Riight.
Don’t think I’ll be here for centennial. Another 50 years? Maybe just. If I dial down the smoking (note, insurance companies: i have never smoked, and never will smoke…i use the smoking of cigarettes for their literary effect, you know, waving them, their bright light as an incandescent punctuation mark, like that). I’ll try.
The rain has slowed. It’s dusk. The mountains that ring Addis are black silhouettes against a purple sky. I can see Bole from my window. The part that has been tarred glistens, mirrors a man walking by with a newspaper over his head.
This song has come on. Thao. Girl be playing Toronto this month. If you can, see that show for me. Cities are good like that.
I’ll do my best to blog. It’s not as easy as the bush, distracted as one can be from the broken, beating heart of the world by all of the flashing lights and moving pictures of the past. It’s here, though, same as there. Has to be. No other way. It’s the just the one ocean and all, same one that moves through the rivers and the clouds, you and me, back again, like love, and you’re just part of it until its done with you.