Dust in the Wind


I took the invoice and asked Mulunesh for my money back. Then I paid, but the driver wasn't satisfied. He kept holding his hand out, used the other to point to the gate, and finally said something to Mulunesh. She looked helplessly in my direction, not knowing how to explain. I showed the invoice and pointed to the amount that I was supposed to pay. However, once more, the driver pointed outside and grunted some more Amharic.

Mulunesh seemed to think deep, and then said to me "Dog! Money, dog!"

I didn't understand, but then realized that she perhaps meant horse. "Horse? He means, money for the horse? For transport?"

The driver nodded rapidly. "Transport!"

However, Girmay had been very clear to me. I looked to the driver and said "No money for transport. Transport, no!" Then I turned to Mulunesh. "Girmay had been very clear - no money for transport."

"Girmay no money?" I shook my head. Then Mulunesh started rapidly speaking to the driver, who tried to reply, but she gave him no chance. After a while, she even started pushing him, and sulkily, he started moving outside. When he'd left the house, Mulunesh shook her head. "Ch'amlacka" she muttered - I guessed she was swearing at the man.

Mulunesh took a broom and started sweeping the floor. I took one of the buckets and filled it with warm water - astonished, Mulunesh looked at the steaming water coming from the tap, checking the temperature with her finger, surprised by the heat. I put soap in it, took a cloth and started cleaning the kitchen table, but Mulunesh objected, took the cloth out of my hand, and pushed me away. I picked up the broom, but now she decisively pushed me out of the house - I clearly wasn't allowed to interfere with her work... so I took my book and went outside, reading again.

About an hour later, someone loudly banged the gate-door. I stood up to open it, but some of the neighbors saw me, and sprinted to open it before I could. Now, there was a pickup truck with my fridge in the back. Two men carried it in the kitchen, gazed upon by my neighbors. They whispered to each other, clearly discussing the purchase I had done.

Mulunesh quickly cleaned the floor in the kitchen where the fridge should come, and then it was placed in position. One of the men put its plug in the socket, but I tried to stop him. I had learned that, after transport, it was important to let the fridge stand for a while, maybe as long as 24 hours, before you'd turn it on. No clue why, but that was one of the things I knew about these machines. I told them so, and pulled the plug out again, but the man took it from my hand. I covered the socket with my hand, so he couldn't plug it in, and asked for the manual. Mulunesh was observing everything without interfering, and also the other man was watching silently from a distance.

Like I assumed, I found the manual of the fridge inside, and quickly leafed through. And indeed, I saw I was correct. However, the other man had put the plug back in again. I showed him the page, but he shook his hand, and pointed to the socket, then opened the door and showed me the wheel for regulating the temperature. He even pushed the switch for the light inside, demonstrating how the light turned off and on.

'OK' I thought. I was too late anyway, so I wanted to pay and get rid of them - and then I could unplug it without conflicts... So I paid them - this time there was no hassle - thanked them and led them out of the compound. When I came back, I quickly pulled out the plug under the disapproving eyes of Mulunesh who, however, did not object...

I wanted to leave the house again, but, once in the door-opening, I found myself surrounded by my neighbors, who invaded my house to see the fridge. They opened the doors and held their hands inside, to check the temperature; they were clearly disappointed. They then turned to Mulunesh, shortly spoke with her, and before I knew, one had plugged it in again. I became seriously pissed off - I guess Mulunesh noticed, and after some discussion, the plug was removed again...

By now, it was already after six, and it started to get dark. I asked Mulunesh if she wanted something to eat, but she looked not-understanding to me. "You, restaurant?" Now she understood.

"Me cooking?" she asked, but I shook my head.

"We, you and me, to a restaurant!" I thought she had deserved a treat after this busy day.

"Come" she said, and walked out of the house. I put on my jacket, locked the door, and followed her, out of the compound, through a few streets, to a house where music came from. She pointed; "Restaurant!" but didn't enter.

"Are you not coming with me?" I asked, and she stepped inside. I followed her to a table, I took a seat, and then she walked away before I could react... Apparently, she was not going to eat with me; maybe she had to get home...

A waiter came, and gave me a menu - a menu in ge-ez, the Ethiopian alphabet... Not very useful. I asked the waiter if he could give me a recommendation, but he didn't react - I guess he didn't speak English. One of the other guests, however, heard me and asked if I liked roasted sheep. When I confirmed, he spoke with the waiter, who nodded and replied.

"Do you want drink? Bira, Coca, Mirinda?"

"Coca, please!" I replied to the waiter, and then I thanked the other man.

When the food arrived, another very big plate with injera and something that looked like the meat I had eaten for lunch too, I asked for the sink, moving my hands as if I was washing my hands. The waiter waved and showed me the way.

Although I hadn't eaten anything since lunch, I felt stuffed after only a few bites... I forced myself to eat more, but only managed to eat less than one quarter of the food on the plate. I paid and left the restaurant, first afraid I wouldn't find the right direction, but I remembered well and recognized some of the parts on the way. While walking, I realized I could use my GPS on my mobile phone - I should be able to find the house on its coordinates. Why hadn't I thought about that before...

I bought a bottle of water in one of the shops on the route, and then I recognized the port of my compound. I knocked, and Mulunesh opened the door.

"You don't need to eat?" I asked, and, after some non-understanding looks, "You no food?" pointing first at her, and then pretending I was eating. She shook her head.

"Are you going home now, or do you sleep here in this house?" I had heard that some housemaids lived with the family they worked for - it wasn't my wish, but if she didn't have another place to stay...

Mulunesh, however, looked in shock to me. "Me sleep!? NOOO!! Me no sleep! Me clean, me cook. Me no sleep!" She spoke as if I had said something very, very naughty, and all the blood ran to my head - I hadn't had any such ideas, when I'd said that, but now I realized how she interpreted it...

"I'm sorry!" I stammered. "That's not what I meant! Only cleaning and cooking of course. No sleeping!"

"And me shop!" she added, satisfied.

I removed the lock from my door and entered - no light... Wellll... that was something for tomorrow... "Are you going home?" I asked Mulunesh, and she nodded.

"Tomorrow, cours! Tomorrow, egg and dabo! Birr?" I gave her my wallet; she took twenty but then I gave her fifty birr. First she wanted to reject it, but eventually she took it with her, and left.

I went inside and managed to make up my bed in the dark. I even found my toothbrush and paste, brushed and remembered to rinse my mouth with the bottled water. I peed, undressed and got in bed. I thought I was tired, but looking back on the past day, reliving the latest experiences, kept me awake long after midnight. And I couldn't figure out how I would ever fit in this country - this city. It was placed on the same world as my home country - between the two lay a distance of only a few hours by plane, but I realized that for most people here, the distance could not be crossed in a lifetime, and I wondered if I myself had truly arrived here yet...

Despite my confusion, I eventually did manage to fall asleep. I woke up twice, thirsty for water, and each time I was struck by the silence of the city of millions.

The next morning, I was woken up by a rattling sound outside the house. I quickly put on a t-shirt and poked my head around the corner. Mulunesh was sitting on the veranda, roasting something I assumed to be coffee beans, in a pan with a very long handle. Already the smell was delicious.

"Good morning, Mulunesh!"

"Good morning William" she greeted back. "Good sleep?"

"Very good, thank you. It's very nice to be woken with the smell of coffee!" Apparently, Mulunesh didn't know how to react; she just remained silent.

I went back in the house, washed myself and got dressed. Then I came out and watched Mulunesh preparing coffee. All of a sudden, I noticed a bundle on her back. What - already? "Mulunesh - you have a baby?"

"Yes. No good?" She looked scared.

"Of course it is good. Very nice! Is it a boy or a girl?"

"Boy baby. Milkiyas!"

"Can I see him?" I stretched out my hands and immediately she loosened the cloth holding the baby, and skillfully grasped her son. Without hesitation, she held it out for me to take it.

I melted away. Why do those black babies - I hate the word black in this sense; also this one had a beautiful brown color, but colored doesn't sound any better to me... - why do all those black babies have those incredibly large, dark eyes! How could they look so adorable! I carefully took Milkiyas out of Mulunesh' hands and held him in my arm. I sat down on the chair, which was still standing on my veranda, and softly tickled his belly with my finger. "He is beautiful, Mulunesh!"

"Thank you. No problem?"

"No problem. I love him!" I think she was afraid I would reject her to bring her child, but I was only happy that she had brought him. I wanted nothing more than to make her feel comfortable working for me, and I could imagine keeping her son close was very important to her.

For a moment, she kept a close eye on me, but when she saw I was handling him well, her attention was back on the coffee.

When the roasting was done, she held the pan with the beans in front of me, waving the smoke in my face. "Very nice!" I complimented. Then she brought the beans inside, spreading the smell of coffee all through the house. Finally, she started mashing the beans in a wooden mortar, using a thick piece of a reinforcing iron bar as a pestle. The mashed coffee was collected on a small round plate made from woven straw, and then shaken into the black coffee pot.

For a moment, she used the straw-plate as a fan to fire up the charcoal, and then she started cutting unions and tomatoes. Skillfully, she made the knife rapidly hit the wooden chopping board, and in no time she created a large red-and-white pile of vegetable-mush. Then, one, two, three green peppers quickly followed - it worried me. Yesterday, the food had also been mixed with those peppers, and they burned like hell...

"Just a little bit of pepper!" I indicated, and Mulunesh nodded reassuring.

When she was done, she took Milkiyas from me, and without fuss, she lifted one of her breasts through the neck out of her dress, and fed him. I felt my face turning red, and that didn't go unnoticed to Mulunesh. "Me, in house?"

I shook my head. Of course it was perfectly normal to breast-feed your child and she shouldn't be hiding it. It was our hypocritical society which had twisted something natural and beautiful into something shameful. I tried to push away my gene, I watched, mollified, this beautifully tender mother-child moment. Then, all of a sudden, she stood up, and turned Milkiyas away from her - she quickly walked down the stairs, just in time... a small jet of water escaped from the little one, while she held him out in front of her. When the flow dried up, she took a dirty cloth to clean up the extending body-part - I wondered what else the cloth was used for... - laid Milkiyas on her back, and wrapped him back in the large shawl. Then she returned to her little stool again.

When I could hear the water in the pot starting to boil, Mulunesh took it from the stove and placed it aside on a round holder. Then she placed a frying pan on the charcoal, poured a large slush of oil in it - I wondered where all those things came from; we certainly hadn't bought all of them yesterday - and shoved the onion-tomato pile into it. Oemphhh; the sharp steam made my eyes water. After some stirring, she added a number of eggs to it, and finally all the pepper... She quickly stirred the content of the pan with a spoon, and eventually shoved it all on a plate. Finally, she added way too much salt...

Then she picked up a watering can and a washing-up bowl, and held them out to me. She poured a bit of water over my hands, passed me a soap bar, and when I was done soaping my hands, she poured enough water to rinse them off.

The can and bowl were placed back on the ground; she took some bread buns from a plastic bag, and offered the plate with all of the egg and bread to me. Then she took some water from the house, and started cleaning up.

"Don't you eat?" I asked her, but she shook her head and continued silently cleaning her tools.

No fork or spoon, so I broke some of the bread and tried to use that to grab some of the egg. The peppers burned in my mouth!!... I felt hungry, but this was not going to work! I picked all the pepper slices I could find, and put them aside. Even then, the occasional hidden pepper spoiled my breakfast, but from those bites without, I could conclude that it wasn't bad... I hoped the pile of uneaten peppers would convince her not to add them again...

There was not enough bread to eat all the egg, so eventually I just took that with my hand and put it directly in my mouth. I think Mulunesh was astonished by my eating habits, which weren't my habits at all - just lack of skills... - but she didn't say. When I was done, she took my plate away and then started pouring the coffee. First, she poured a little bit in one cup. She swirled the coffee around, and then poured that in the next, continuing until all cups were done. In the end, she threw the bit of coffee on the floor. Next, she put two-and-half spoons of sugar in one of the cups, poured coffee until its brim, and then stretched out her arm to give it to me.

I took it and waited, but she didn't fill a second cup. "Don't you drink coffee yourself?" I asked, making her look up.

"No problem?"

"Of course no problem!" and I waited until she poured a second cup.

"No sugar?" I asked, and she added one spoon, making the cup flood.

I stirred and then carefully sipped the coffee. "Konjo Buna!"

Mulunesh radiated. "Ameseginalehu! You... Amhariniya! Good! Very good!"

I carefully sipped the coffee, trying to avoid the large pieces of coffee beans floating on top. With a spoon, I tried to scoop them out, but I couldn't get rid of all of them. Mulunesh, on the other hand, simply spitted them out in front of her.

When I finished my coffee, she reached out to collect the cup. "More buna?"

Of course! I now knew the coffee ceremony comprised of three rounds, so bring it on! However, she didn't first make new coffee, but poured another cup from the same brew. Only then, she added more water and put it back on the fire.

One of the neighbors came, talked a bit with Mulunesh, and then used a spoon to pick a piece of burning charcoal with her. I guessed for lightening their own charcoal.

I finished my coffee, and Mulunesh retrieved the cup. She washed it with some water, and put it back on the small table.

After my third coffee, she asked once more if I wanted another one - why not... So I got a fourth coffee, from the second brew again, and while I was drinking, a refilled pot was once more placed on the fire... So I would start today with at least five, and maybe even six cups of coffee! Five was enough.

When I entered the house, I heard the hum of the refrigerator - so Mulunesh had plugged it in again... I gave up...

I went to the toilet; that came out smooth - way too smooth! Of course I was prepared for diarrhea; I brought out a sachet with powder, mixed it with bottled water and took it in.

In the split-second that Mulunesh had been inside the house, she also had managed to make up the bed, and grab my pile of dirty clothes. I opened the window and then placed one of my suitcases on the bed. I didn't have any storage furniture, so I just placed piles of clothes on the floor along the wall. Books I piled up in the living room, and that was basically all I had... I wondered how long it would take until the furniture would be delivered - that would make the place a little less hostile.

I went outside and saw Mulunesh draping my wet clothes on the veranda. "No ..." she said - pointing to one of the clotheslines from the neighbors. Something else we needed to buy. Talking about buying...

When she was finished with the clothes I told her I wanted to buy lights. She didn't understand, but when I pointed to the empty light-sockets in the ceiling, she replied something confirming. Then, I think she summed up what else she needed, but I didn't understand much of her waterfall of Amharic. Suddenly she stopped - aware of the fact that I didn't get a word, and smiled; she reached out her hand; "Birr!"

I laughed of the sudden change, and handed over my wallet. She took out some money and put it in her dress. When she walked out, I followed her, but she stopped me. "Me," she pointed at herself, "small birr." and showed a little space between thumb and index finger. "You," she then continued, "big birr!!" stretching her hands far aside. We both laughed - apparently, my skin didn't help her when bargaining. So I sat down on the chair outside the house, read a book, and looked around to what the other people were doing.

When she came back, Mulunesh was accompanied by three children, carrying bags, iron burners, a small stool, and many other items. Apparently, she had been using her own materials this morning. She started by showing me all articles, and telling me the price she bought it for - she remembered everything from her head! I tried to convince her I was fine with it - I trusted her - but she had to show them all. And then she arranged everything, after which she started cooking again.

She used a large knife to chop some bones, and then started cutting peppers again - "Mulunesh, only a little bit of pepper!" Like she had done before, I showed a small space between thumb and finger, and again she nodded reassuring; that didn't look good. I tried to take the third pepper away from her chopping board, but she simply pushed my hand away.

Hey, her child was gone! "Mulunesh, where is Milkiyas?"

"Milkiyas, sister!... You," she pretended she was hugging someone, "you, Milkiyas?"

"Not now." I replied. If he was with her sister, fine - she didn't have to get him for me. "Will you bring him again tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow, Milkiyas!" she nodded, and continued with her work.

Lunch was the same meat as yesterday - 'Tibs', Mulunesh called it, with injera. First she let me wash my hands, and then put a large plate on my lap.

Mulunesh didn't take any, and shook her head when I asked her to join me. What was she eating?

Even when I picked the peppers out, it was still burning. "Mulunesh, no more peppers!" I said, pointing to the green pile. Then I fanned air in my mouth. She giggled, picked the peppers from my plate... and evenly distributed them over the meat again...

Like the other day, the injera stuffed me within no-time. I really tried, but I couldn't eat that much. Mulunesh, however, who was roasting coffee again - what! More coffee?! - contemptuously shook her head. "Behla!" she looked angry, and pointed to the plate. I told her I was really stuffed'; I rubbed my belly, but she didn't take no for an answer.

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byRubenR© 11 comments/ 6760 views/ 7 favorites

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