by Emma Lochery
This is the first post in an ongoing series featuring artworks from and about the Horn of Africa region. We will start with two short stories by Emma Lochery, both read at our blog launch party this past weekend. Click on the sound boxes below each story title to hear Emma’s recitation. The stories are an excerpt of letters Emma wrote home from Addis Ababa in 2008 and 2009. They are dedicated to her neighbours in Arat Kilo.
Happy New Year – by TEXT MESSAGE
(An overview of SMS greetings Ethiopian government style)
First, I must wish you a very happy New Year…yes, last month Ethiopians welcomed the year 2002. We were as usual bombarded with the text messages from various government ministries and other companies…I always save these text messages that come on holidays.
First, there are the more straightforward reminders –
Quality education for all!
Quality education is every one’s job!
Happy new year
Ministry of Education
NEW YEAR, NEW LIFE!
TEST FOR HIV, TEST WITH YOUR PARTNER,
GET YOUR CHILDREN TESTED AND BRIGHTEN THE FUTURE OF YOUR
FAMILY. FREE TESTING.
HAPPY NEW YEAR.AAHAPCO
And here is one from an event earlier this year a lot of you missed, I am betting –
“Your child will grow strong & healthy when only breast milk is given from the first hour of life until 6 months.” FMOH [Fed Min of Health], World Health Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 Aug 2009
Then also for New Year, the evil tax evaders among us got a subtle nudge –
Wish all a happy and prosperous new year.
“Compliance to law including the laws governing tax & customs is basis for a sustainable growth”.
Melaku Fanta (ERCA) [Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority]
And for the 10th anniversary of Ethiopian Telecommunications, we got free SMS for 24 hours:
Ginbot 20 (Eth. Renaissance) and the 10th Anniversary of Mobile (telecom renaissance), ETC grants its subscribers to use free local SMS for 24 hrs. ETC
We also get kind wishes that make us feel like business tycoons –
Ethiopian cargo wishes you happy easter with the new exciting business opportunities of MD 11 air craft capacity. EAL CEO, Girma Wake
[EAL = Ethiopian Airlines]
And ones like this that come out of the blue:
“Go to <www.fsc.gov.et> or dial 992 to get information about cases in the Federal Supreme Court.”
All in all, I don’t feel alone on the holidays with all this bombarding me…
(Some drops of the rainy season saved for you)
Here I drink my keshir shai (ginger spiced tea) by candlelight. Electricity, provided by the dear EEPCo (Ethiopian Electrical Power Corporation) only comes on every other day. Recently traveling through the north of the country, we managed to arrive in towns on their off day, almost every time. Smaller towns like Gonder have the whole town on or off. Bigger towns like Dessie had half on half off, depending on which side of the main through road you were on. And in Addis, well, each sefer has an off or on day.
And my mind drifts to the dark wet world that is Addis at night during Kirumpt. Kirumpt is the rainy season – and it envelopes you. As I told a brother recently, it is like an Oxford autumn with a full Indian monsoon mixed in. It rains almost every day. Sometimes really hard, sometimes more softly. Sometimes it doesn’t rain but the clouds fall so low on the city, dripping their fingers down giving you damp skin, humid hair, and a chill…
Odd moments of sun, oh raise your face to the sky, breathe in the warm, feel the little hairs on your cheek bathed in sunlight…even your lips want to kiss the heat.
Clothes hang outside for days. Days and days. Washed again by the sky after being washed by our hands. Washed again by clear water after our blue Omo. So much that you think all the colours of the clothes will join the muddy swill in the river below. The river, that actually is a river now, that was a trickle, a dry stream pile of rubbish, but now is a full rushing, singing, glorypraising-at-night river, so much so that I hear rain even when it is not raining.
The rain really slows the world down. Appointments are kept only hours after they were scheduled….
“And again I’m caught in the rain, so lakeside – I mean roadside, I stand, I wait.”
Share an umbrella with an older Muslim sister in my sefer, huddle with twenty other people in the circular blue telephone booth.
‘Farenj, look, look, look at my clothes.’
‘Don’t move,’ the boy on the fence under the bush says. My umbrella is a blessing until I tilt it to create a gutter, and water slides down his neck.
Yes rain. It ties, it bonds, and gathers us together. And in the evening, darkness falls quickly. I buy bekolo (maize) from the ladies on the corner, the ladies squatting in the damp damp damp, the warm of the coals lighting their faces as they turn the corn. Then buy bread, the room lit by a candle, laughing over poor Amharic, laughing and encouraging. Then over the puddles, up the cobbled road to my house. Wash my shoes. Stepped in a big mud puddle today. Can’t really see what I am doing. No-light day again. They feel cleaner.
Kirumpt. A familiar feeling. My country’s weather once again chases me around the world.
Reminds me of bringing desert rains – whether my destination was Kalahari or Sahara, or the sands of northern Kenya, rain followed and embraced me. No need for that now, here all is wet and overwhelms any thought of rain dances and rain prayers. Mud on my feet, mud in my hair, mud on my face. Mud wrestling anyone? We should have an Arat Kilo contest, with the winners doing a lap around the monument. Run run run run around the puddles. How about we invite all the executives from EEPCo to take part? Yes, Renaissance in the mud. Renaissance dancing in the rain. Throw the water up, a million person fountain springing up in the middle of the country.
I think it’s started to rain again…
Emma Lochery is studying for a doctoral degree in Politics at Oxford, focusing on the development of the transnational trade networks that link the Somali regions of the Horn to each other, to Somali diaspora around the world, and to commercial nodes in the Gulf and east Asia. Emma has in the past researched trade, markets, and citizenship issues in Kenya and Ethiopia. She thanks the Rotary Clubs of Districts 6900 and 9200 who made her stay in Ethiopia possible.