tagInterracial LoveDancing in Ethiopia

Dancing in Ethiopia

byRubenR©

This is my contribution to the "WINTER HOLIDAYS STORY CONTEST 2016" It is submitted to the section 'Interracial Love' and that's exactly what it is about: love, crossing boundaries.

All names, characters, situations and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended or should be inferred.

Copyright blablabla...


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I walk home through the dirty snow. How I hate this snow; slippery, trodden, filthy...

On its first morning, while still appearing as a pristine white cover that conceals the whole world, it isn't too bad, but after the first step is set, at the first traces of life, the first deterioration, the magic is gone and all that is left is inconvenience.

In front of the door I stamp my feet; a futile attempt to get rid of the snow which will soon form wet, black puddles in the hall.

The house is cold. Empty.

It is only three weeks -- less than a month -- since Miranda told me she had to move on. Move on! Like I am nothing more than a railway platform -- a highway hotel to spend the night. To eat, drink, to take some rest, and then continue towards the final destination; or perhaps to the next stop-in-between... As if, what we had, was never meant for real...

I turn on the heating, put the bag with groceries in the kitchen, and switch on the TV. With the sound of a sitcom in the background, I start cooking, warming my hands above the furnace in the process. Pre-cut vegetables and sauces that only need warming; quick and still somewhat fresh...

When the food is ready, I divide it in four portions -- one on a plate, one in the fridge, and two for the freezer. I fill my glass and take the food to the living room, where I watch TV while gobbling down my diner.

In the commercial break, I bring my plate back to the kitchen -- today cooking, tomorrow cleaning -- and make a cup of coffee. Then I watch the rest of the TV program, in the meantime checking Facebook.

When I've seen all the latest posts, scrolled through some news websites, and checked the TV guide, I turn off the TV and try to focus on the software I've been working on.

For a moment, the buzz of my phone manages to break my attention -- a message from Brace, asking if I'm going to join them tomorrow evening; I'll answer them tomorrow -- and before I know it's time to go to bed again.

My God, it's cold under the blankets...

***

Jazlynn keeps jabbering about her plans for Christmas -- decoration, food, presents -- as if anyone cares... Shelly tries to contribute to the conversation, probably out of politeness, but as usual, Jazlynn dominates the table; the rest of us drift away in thoughts, sometimes interrupted by her loud laugh.

"How do you stand this?" I ask Shelly on the way back to our office. "All this whining about how great she is..."

"Oh, come on! She isn't that bad, you know her. Just let her do the talking, and everybody remains happy. As long as she brings in her pies! And then, I really liked some of her ideas about Christmas dinner -- perhaps I might ask her some of the recipes ...

I roll my eyes.

"Hey!! Don't blame us for not suffering from a break-up like you! Maybe you should take a break; go somewhere else this Christmas. Take a holiday; get laid!"

She still manages to shock me -- every time... "Any plans for tonight!?"

She laughs at me, "Dream on!" and moves into her office.

***

I meet with Brace and Leo in our usual starting bar. We hit a few beers and get on the street. I can't persuade them to go to Messy -- apparently Leo had some bad experiences lately, and Brace pushes me to move on; we end up in Lemon-Ivy.

We push ourselves through the dense, hot crowd, rolling with the music. At the bar, while ordering drinks, Brace hooks up with a group of girls, and apparently I'm linked to a long blonde who already pulled down more than a few glasses of boost.

I ask for her name, but when bend over to make sense of her words, she licks my cheek with a wet tongue. Next thing, she grabs me in the groin.

Annoyed, I push her away, try to reach Brace's eyes, but he's too busy talking with the other blonde, so I push my glass in the hands of my 'date' and force myself to the exit. Before I leave, I turn to see her knocking back my drink. I'm out of here...

***

I turn on the TV and hang my coat in the hall. I grab a beer from the fridge, even though I just came out of the cold myself, and move back to the living room.

I open my email, aiming to clean up the inbox, but then my attention lingers on the newsletter of VSO.

In a split-second, I know what to do.

A few years ago I'd had a short project in Addis Abeba -- Ethiopia. I came to set-up the network for a new conference building, but when I arrived, none of the computers had arrived -- nothing was in place -- so finally I ended up getting the wiring in place.

It was my first time -- my only time -- in Africa. I had just started dating Gemma, so twelve days seemed like an eternity; I didn't want to stay any longer. Those days were filled with attending endless, useless meetings, alternated with supervising and time after time correcting the workers. I became more and more frustrated by the fact that I wasn't allowed to do the wiring myself, as that would have taken far less time and better results.

After twelve days, I left Addis with a feeling of disappointment -- unsatisfied with the progress I had made -- but back home, my supervisor was content. My work had been evaluated very positively, so he had no reasons to complain; others would have walked away from such a situation.

I hadn't seen much from the area -- I got picked up from the hotel after breakfast, had lunch and dinner at a nearby restaurant in company of higher staff, other foreigners and sometimes some high-level guests, and in the evening after work, it was too dark for a safe walk in this strange city. Only on Sunday I had a day off, which I used to visit the National Museum of Ethiopia, to see the remains of Lucy, our 3.2 million years old grandma which have changed our view on human evolution, and to see the palace that once belonged to the famous Emperor Haile Selassie.

Once back home, I started to realize I had ignored a great opportunity; I could have seen something from a whole different part of the world. Ethiopia wasn't as frightening as I had expected on beforehand, and I became more and more interested in the culture and history of this country.

Perhaps this is the right time to go back -- it would safe me from spending Christmas and New Year with my family, and the weather can't be any worse than here...

***

The luggage hall is wide and noisy, like at almost every airport in the world. It takes forever for the first suitcases fall on the belt, and even longer for mine to come. I politely refuse the help of a luggage assistant -- I can handle it myself. The trolley squeaks; one of the wheels is at an angle and drags against the frame. Perhaps I should have taken another one, but looking around, my trolley is reasonably good in comparison to some others.

Inside the airport there is a small office where you can change money -- it isn't possible to get Ethiopian birrs outside of Ethiopia -- and I join the queue. The people behind the window are impossibly slow, filling in forms, more stamps, counting and counting again, but finally I get my five hundred euro's changed to a huge pile of filthy one-hundred-birr notes, and a handful of coins.

One step outside the building, and the taxi drivers start yelling, trying to drag me to their cars. The previous time, there was a minibus from the hotel waiting for me, but this time I go low-budget and I have to take care of it myself.

It is cold, and I pull up the zip of my jacket. Then I take a deep breath, and remember the strange, unique, but not unwelcome smell of smoke and spices from the city. I push my luggage to the parking place, walk to one of the taxis that looks reasonably well, and immediately a big man quickly runs in my way.

"Where do you want to go?"

"Taitu Hotel."

"Okay. Get in!"

"No no no! How much is it to Taitu Hotel?!"

"Don't worry. Get in!"

"No, first I want to know how much!"

"Four hundred birr."

"Four hundred birr? You must be kidding me -- I can get a whole bus to the hotel by that price -- it's only me! Fifty birr!" I know you have to hassle, but I don't have a clue about the right price -- I don't know how long it takes to get to the hotel and I don't know the normal fares -- I just give it a try. One Euro is about twenty five birr...

"Fifty birr??!! Get serious man! You won't even get away from the airport for fifty birr... Four hundred -- take it or leave it!"

"And you're telling me to get serious? I'll make it up to you; one hundred birr, that's it!"

"No way man! Three hundred fifty -- I can't get any lower than that!"

Should I check another taxi? I hesitate. "Two hundred -- that's way more than normal, but I'm in a good mood tonight."

"I'm in a good mood too -- that's why you don't offend me. It's midnight, man! Where do you want to get like this? No-one will drive you there for this money. Let's get serious now. Three hundred!"

Who cares -- I just want to get away from here. "Okay -- let's get in the middle of that. I'll make you a deal. Two fifty!"

The driver sighs. "You're killing me man. Like all the white men, you're taking profit of the black, but okay -- I have a family to take care of, and I can't get home without some cash. Two hundred seventy five!"

I give up, take his hand, and immediately after he opens his trunk, someone emerges from the dark to lift my suitcase in his car.

"Ten birr!"

"What?!"

"Ten birr!"

I turn to the driver. "Does he really expect ten birr for lifting my suitcase?"

The driver raises his shoulders.

"It's ridiculous, don't you think? I didn't ask him for anything!" I try again, but the driver ignores me.

I push the other man away, lift my suitcase out of the car, put it on the ground, and then place it back in the car again. "No money!"

The man tries to grab my arm; I shake him off, and force myself through the door on the passenger seat. Once the door is closed, he clears off.

"Totally crazy!" the driver sits down and shakes his head. "They're getting more and more shameless. Thing is, though; when I start supporting you, I'm no longer safe at this parking..."

I understand.

It takes several attempts before the motor catches on -- I almost start fearing I have to find another cab, but eventually we are moving.

With a loud bang, the car crashes through its shock-absorber when taking the traffic bump in front of a barrier at the exit of the airport parking, making me shake in my seat. The driver laughs. "It's a bit old!"

He pays one of the guards at the exit, and then we move into the traffic of Addis.

The first part of our route road is pitch-black, only sparsely lid by the single light of the car. Apparently, there is quite some steering wheel play as the driver keeps turning his wheel back and forth.

Even in the urban area, the roads are empty; cars are rare at this time of the night, but the driver needs to keep an eye on pedestrians, wandering from bar to bar. Alongside the road I can see numerous shapeless heaps; I see them, but it takes some time to recognize them for what they are. It's too many -- they are too common to make sense to me; homeless people, hundreds of them, alone, or in groups trying to share each other's warmth. I don't remember them from my previous visit...

After more than half an hour, the taxi stops in front of a rope, pulled over the road. The driver honks, and a guard comes out of a corrugated metal hut. He walks to the driver's window and looks inside.

The driver lowers his window and starts talking to the guard, who, after a little while, shortly looks at me and then lowers the rope. The taxi goes another fifty meters, and stops in front of a building with an open door, leading to a brightly lit room with a counter.

I pay the driver, he lifts my suitcase from the booth, and then he's off.

I walk into the open building; no-one. I see a service bell on the counter and hit it. I hear some rustling behind the counter and a man appears -- apparently he was sleeping on the ground. He greets me, and I tell him I have a reservation. He needs my passport, writes down name and passport number in a large book, I pay, write down my signature, and get a key on a large wooden key chain with the number on it. The receptionist waves to one of the outbuildings -- the room is over there.

The room is at the end of the hallway. I open the door, and for a moment I'm taken aback by the strange smell. However, too tired to pay too much attention, I quickly move in, lock the door behind me, relieve myself, undress and get in bed. I realize I should have taken a bottle of spring water, but don't feel for going back to the reception -- the guy is probably already sleeping again. I turn off the light, and quickly fall asleep too.

***

Surprisingly early, I wake up. Headache...

I check the shower -- only a weak dribble of water coming out of the tap, and way too cold for me; for today I'll be content with a splash of water in my face. I dry myself with the ragged, rough, gray towel, get dressed and go outside.

Once in the sun, I look around -- I'm staying on the second floor of a small, white, two-floors building. A small bridge gets me inside, while people from the first floor have to walk through some narrow trench. On the other side, the bridge leads to a small garden in front of, probably, the main hotel building; a majestic, although slightly run down building with white walls and thick, dark-brown wooden window- and doorframes and balconies. Perhaps former glory but still impressive. According to the website, this is the first hotel of Ethiopia, built more than a century ago to host the guests of the Emperor at that time.

I peak inside -- lots of wood; wooden floor, wooden furniture. I probably could get breakfast inside, but I decide for a little walk and see if I can get something nearby.

There is a small café across the street, with pastries displayed in a small showcase. I order coffee, a small bottle of water, and I select some cake.

It feels weird to be the only white person around. It's not like people treat me badly -- on the contrary -- but it feels... I don't know... strange... A bit as if everybody is looking at me; which is, of course, totally untrue.

Quickly, I empty the water bottle to quench my thirst, and then start eating the cake -- it is dry, crumbly, but I manage to get it down with the small cup of coffee. The coffee tastes just like I remember; strong, sweet, without the bitter aftertaste.

When I get back to the hotel and open my door, a woman, probably a cleaning lady, quickly comes my way and starts talking in what is probably Amharic -- the main language of Ethiopia. I can't make up what she's talking about, but another guest who happens to be around explains to me that I have to leave the key at the reception when I leave.

Once back in my room, I take up the surroundings. White walls and white tiles on the floor. The furniture looks very old-fashioned: the bed is covered with a green-orange-brown bedspread; it isn't dirty, but it does look worn out. On both sides of the bed is a small wooden side-table carrying an old-fashioned lamp. There is a dark-brown wooden wardrobe, a table with a white-orange blocked cover carrying a TV and an uncomfortable brown chair...

The bathroom floor and walls have the same tiles as the bedroom. The tiles are a bit uneven, two of them are broken and another one is completely missing.

A bath with a shower; no option to hook the shower to the wall -- you have to keep it in your hand. The small shelf that used to be in front of the mirror above the sink is missing, and so is one of the knobs of the tap. The side of the sink is cracked and toilet seat is missing. And the bathroom window has no curtain... I guess it is quite reasonable for a bit more than ten euros a night...

I pick up my Lonely Planet, a jacket, and leave the room. When I lock the door, the cleaning lady comes to me again, and I make up that she wants to have the key -- she'll probably want to clean the room. I give it to her, inform the reception about the key, and then I'm off.

The first street is quiet, but then I enter the more active part of the city. Apparently this is where the busses stop; the road is filled with the blue and white taxis and mini-busses, and even some larger busses, while the sidewalk is full of people walking and waiting. Several kids are cleaning shoes, a few carrying boxes with tissues, cigarettes and sweets. And again, no-one is paying attention at me.

I keep walking with no particular aim, and pass a large variety of shops; at some point I end up in a gold-and-silver area, where window after window is filled with rings, necklaces and other jewelry. I keep moving until I'm out of the commercial area, and then I decide to continue in another direction.

It's my intention to stay a few days in Addis and then travel to some other cities that are supposed to be interesting. Sauntering the streets like this seems like good way to get familiar with this unusual country; the next day I'm planning some tourist visits to churches and suchlike.

After about an hour of walking, I enter a bar for a soft drink, and another hour later I notice a sign for fruit-juice. I remember fruit-juice from my previous visit -- a large glass with blended pulp from papaya, mango, avocado or banana; often a mix of those.

I enter the small fruit-shop with a few small chairs positioned around even smaller tables and order papaya-avocado juice from a girl, perhaps fifteen, sixteen years old, dressed in clothes that look like a school uniform. Without a word, she picks up the required fruits and moves to an area behind a curtain; a bit later I hear the blender working. Besides me, there are only two men, sitting and talking together; soon after my entrance they stand up and leave.

Not much later, the girl comes back with a large glass filled with an orange and green layer, half a lemon and a long, small spoon on a saucer. I pay and try to exchange a few words with the girl, but she quickly withdraws behind the counter and starts leafing through a book -- probably a schoolbook.

A bit later another girl in the same uniform enters, looks around but ignores me, and walks to the counter. The first girl stands up and they greet each other by pressing their shoulders against each other. Then they both sit down on the one chair behind the counter, and start whispering.

I finish my drink, stand up and salute the girls, but they don't reply. When I get through the door, the heat of the late morning hits me like a hammer.

The juice rich -- after this drink I feel very satisfied, and I continue my walk with renewed energy.

I come along some tourist shops, selling small carpets, various clay-articles, t-shirts and so forth, and I decide to take a look. Not that I'm planning to buy something -- I will have plenty of time for that later and I'm not willing to carry unnecessary luggage with me for the rest of my traveling -- but to get an idea of what is available.

What I see is typical souvenir-junk; wooden 'statues', some very childish paintings, several braces made of leather or beads, key chains and t-shirts.

The woman behind the counter doesn't even look up from her cell phone -- apparently the social media has also entered this part of the world...

The t-shirts draw most of my attention. Several pictures of Rastafari -- there is a strong link between Rastafari and Ethiopia -- but it isn't what I'm interested in; neither in the shirts in bright yellow, green and red from their national soccer team; I do like the ones with a lion holding an Ethiopian flag, and some others with some words written in the Ethiopian script, but I leave the shop empty handed. Even when I salute before I leave, the shop-woman doesn't react.

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byRubenR© 10 comments/ 10283 views/ 5 favorites

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