Thursday, March 30, 2006


The librarian and I had words today. This came after an episode where she shooshed several of us teachers and told us to "stop talking". Let's just say I told her she is disrespectful. She said she was a Christian and disliked no one. (Internal dialogue at that point: 'That's an odd angle to take.') We agreed to respect each other - I, her library rules, and she, that I'm an adult.

A parent asked me to hang out with his daughter on weekends. I thought he meant for tutoring. He meant as a buddy. He asked in front of his kid. Her mother died a few months back. It was impossible to say no. I think we agreed to one Saturday a month. I'm not really sure. He could have been hitting on me for all I know.

"We have this big house and it's just me and her. I'll invite you over sometime."

I came home and flailed from the kitchen to the living room to the tune of "Hounds of Love". There was a time when I knew who that song was by. I did my best air guitar. It was just what I needed.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

can't wait for saturday

My Saturday afternoon is quickly dwindling away while we spend time waiting for the car to be jimmied open by (my guess) a former car thief. The keys got locked inside. But no luck. Looks as if we might have to break a window.

I’ve been looking forward to today all week. I think I’ve made some lady friends. Yes, yes it’s all very exciting. It was confirmed last week when I went with a woman I work with to eat chocolate cake. It’s the sacred ritual shared between women when we tell each other of this place and that worthy of visiting to satisfy our base cravings. (Mostly) all the kindygarten teachers are going out for dinner tonight to be followed by drinks(cancelled due to rain). I think there’s something similar about our ragtag group for all of us to be living in Addis, working and attempting to make a normal life for ourselves. Lady energy…it’s a good thing.


This is a blog I wrote a while back when I first arrived, but never got around to publishing. Perhaps it explains the need for chocolate and cake that I still find compelling.


So I made it, for the love and all. The last five months have had their moments of feeling torturous with the typical ups and downs of being without your lovely love. But I’m here. I thought the moment I saw T at the airport would be super emotional (I really thought I’d be boohooing) but actually it was just as if we’d never been apart. It just felt normal to be with him. And after two weeks, it still feels normal but fantastic all at the same time.

The best way to describe being in Addis is akin to camping, camping with extras. Daily routines aren’t quite typical – different grocery stores, different process – comforts you normally enjoy aren’t quite the same – a whore’s bath instead of a shower – some things are slightly dulled down – ketchup is actually watered down tomato paste. And at the same time, I’ve been entirely spoiled. There’s a servant culture here that definitely feels strange. The first time I had dinner at T’s dad’s house, they pushed a buzzer for the maid to come and collect the dirty dishes when we finished dinner. And I’m sure my eyes bugged out a little. So anyways, I haven’t washed a dish since I’ve been here. It feels strange to not do simple things for yourself, like get a glass of water. Instead it’s turned into a process with someone you bringing you the bottled water with a glass on a tray. One of the ladies I’ve been hanging out with, Mimi (she’s also been teaching me some Amharic), is also the same woman who brings me sandwiches and tea in the afternoon. “Ah! Don’t do that! Can’t we make the sandwiches together? And why haven’t you brought a sandwich for yourself?”

I’m starting to feel a bit braver about cruising the streets of Addis by myself. Last week it felt normal to go to the grocery store by myself and get a few things like milk and eggs. I’m still nervous about taking a taxi somewhere, especially because I don’t know the city all too well. And it’s not as if you can tell the driver an intersection – the way it works is here is according to landmarks (hotels, etc.) of which I know few. So for me to get to the other side of the city, I’d have to know what sort of landmark everyone identifies as being a ‘stop’. The other thing about being out and about is the number of people who approach you asking for money, or just want to say hi, shake your hand, etc. It can feel overwhelming, especially for a girl like me who generally likes to disappear and not be noticed. It can feel immensely sad when a tiny three year old runs along side me “hello hello one birr one birr”. Walking for about 30 minutes, it’s possible for about five people to approach you in this way. And it’s just really fucking sad. Some days I’ve got the blues only chocolate and cake can cure. Maybe that seems insincere, but it’s how I’m dealing for now. Don’t really know what else to do?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

la la la la la LA

my fungus is gone. well, it was never mine really but ya, it's gone.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

confirmation of crazy

I feel I’ll forever be surrounded by strange/crazy people. And for the most part, I search out strangeness in my friends, but I like people who are randomly strange as in they blurt out strange things at strange times. To me, that’s funny. But there’s an assistant in my class who is beyond strange. Perhaps deranged? She’s the enforcer in my class. The kids listen to her because they pick up on the deranged factor. That’s my theory anyways. If they drop their ferfer, look out. It’s the death glare followed by ramblings in Amharic threatening to cut of their ears.

Today was the parent/teacher conferences. (Side note: very interesting that only the parents of the smarter kids come.) I spent three hours with said deranged assistant interspersed by visiting parents (thank god for distractions). I feared how much she might reveal when she told me the following…

At a former school, there was a little girl about 4 years old who used to kiss a boy in her class. On his penis. The boy complained he didn’t want to go to school because of this girl and his penis was ‘dirty’ somehow so his parents were worried. The girl also used to put her hand down her pants, then smell her fingers (something freakily akin to Mary Katherine Gallagher I guess). I attempted to explain that this little girl was probably being abused and had learned this from a grownup in some inappropriate way. The girl wasn’t even in her class but this assistant had actually seen the girl put her hand down her pants and was just really disturbed by her behaviour. As a result, the assistant used to have dreams about the girl and in her somewhat halting English, told me that one time she woke up from sleeping with her own hand down her pants. Of course, she went straight to a priest. From what I know, they’re good at dealing with all matters sexual. The priest told her the girl was dark inside and to do some holy water chanting/screaming ritual thing.

And at that point, I figured it was time to go home.

The nazi librarian (who has yet another new hairdo) and I seem to have come to an unspoken truce. I asked to borrow her scissors. She said yes. It’s been smooth library excursions ever since.

I have daydreams of having a whole day where I tell people exactly what I think at the exact moment I think it. The concept seems frighteningly freeing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

doctors and clinics and fungus, oh my

I hate going to the doctor here, which is why I put off going in the first place. I thought WebMD could tell me everything I wanted to know – like I don’t actually have a fungus…it’s just something that will go away.

But alas, I have a fungus. I also have a cold or flu and I’m guessing that when I start zapping the fungus with my new cream, I’ll be able to kick the cold too.

Doctors here seem eager to hand out antibiotics like they’re candy. They also like to throw in the odd chest x-ray and blood test. If anything, I get to keep a souvenir of my inner workings. I’m going to put it on display in the living room for all to see.

When you go to reception, people avoid looking in your direction. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to be forced into attempting to speak English. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a guy eager to practice his language skills. He’ll help you out. Then you’re off to the waiting room with uncomfortable chairs (sans magazines) where women stare in your direction, are obviously speaking about you beu amaranya and you’d like to give them the finger but then, how would that reflect on your representation of all the nech in town. Good thing your name is also an Ethiopian name. People can pronounce it and you can hear when it’s called – time to see the doctor. Your skeptical because you know doctors tell people if they have chest problems, they’re allergic to cold. Cold weather, cold drinks, cold food. And that’s just crazy because people endure cold weather all the time. You tell your story and he asks to listen to your lungs. He asks to undo your bra which you don’t think is necessary because it can easily be moved out of the way. But he’s a doctor, a scientist, not a thinking/feeling being. He moves to the front and his hand brushes your breast; he listens just to the side of your chest but it’s all a bit creepy. He goes to the extreme in asking if there are kids at the school with TB. TB? He orders a blood test and chest x-ray. The blood test is quick. You worry about complete sterilization. You have to wait for the x-ray to be done because it’s now lunch time. Time to break out the book you’ve brought. An hour passes but everyone who has been waiting rushes to the x-ray room and hands in their slips before you. You don’t want to push and shove so yours is last to be handed in. For some reason, they hand your slip back. When you know it’s your turn, you again turn in your slip. She says “take a seat”. I insist I’ve been waiting already and it’s now my turn. I go inside where a second man that day sees my breasts. He says I must have the flu because I look stiff. It could also be because I’m uncomfortable. The x-ray will be processed later that day but you have yet to see the doctor return from lunch. When will he get back? you ask. 3 o’clock. Two and a half hours for lunch. You can’t wait till he dillydallies back so you decide to come back the next day. The next day is rather smooth and all your results are ready. You still don’t think the doctor knows what he’s talking about so you don’t fulfill all the prescriptions. Only the one that will get rid of the fungus in 5 to 7 days.

too cute

There are some kids you just wanna eat. This is one of them.

what kind of girl are you?

Before the time of the boyfriend, I had lady friends. Back in Canada, there’s a whole range to choose from: hipster girls, arty girls, man-ish girls, bubble gum girls. My friends were/are a mixture of any of these, of the laid back variety.

There seems to be only one type here: the girly girls. It’s all about going to hair salons weekly for up to 3 hours at a time. It’s about tight, revealing (and often) skanky clothes. It’s about playing up supposedly unbearably painful cramps. While all these are not to be ruled out completely, I’m a believer in moderation in any of the above situations.

Where are the laid back ladies of Ethiopia? And how do you go about making friends with them?

The difference between girly girls here versus Canada is they’re actually friendly. You don’t feel the competition vibe or the hateful stares like you do in Canada. Maybe it’s because women here can be intensely beautiful so they have nothing to worry about. Perhaps it’s me who is being too selective. After all, beggars can’t be choosers. But I just can’t see myself dwelling over make up, hair and clothing for hours on end. I can’t even pretend to get excited about that stuff when I have more important things, like chocolate and treats, to think about. The boyfriend doesn’t get excited about things I like (chocolate, for instance) unlike all girls I know. He claims he’s perfect, but not quite. If only he knew how easy it is to be my perfect lady friend.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

what the fun-gus?

So after a couple of weeks of feeling ill (tired, coughing, sore throat, headache, menamen) and having this ever-increasing red spot appear on my neck, a woman at work yesterday said, “it’s a fungus.” She said it simply as if she pointed at the sky and remarked, “there are clouds”.

“FUNGUS!?” I asked, very much alarmed. “What do I do? How did I get it? It’s from those walking diseases we call children, isn’t it?”

“It’s probably from some child that kissed you and they had a fungus on their lips. Just put some nech shinkurt on it when you get home.”

Suddenly this red spot that had been mildly annoying made me feel like I was disgusting.

I got home, walked straight to the fridge, sliced open a piece of garlic and applied it directly to my hideousness. Take that, fungi!

Ironically, my favourite joke has to do with fungus.

A mushroom walks into a bar.

The bartender says, “hey, you can’t come in here.”

“Why not? I’m a fun guy.”

The garlic hasn’t worked. I have an appointment with a dermatologist tomorrow.

Monday, March 06, 2006


If you’ve ever read Self by Yann Martel (and I suggest you do), you’ll know that he uses different languages in a way that indicates both familiarity and disconnect at the same time. When I hear “not English”, my ears attempt to pick out similar English sounding cousins. It’s possible for me with some languages like French, Spanish, Italian and German. But with Amharic, particularly when I first got here, I couldn’t even identify any long lost, twice-removed cousins.

Martel splits the page in to columns. On one side is the continued English dialogue/narrative familiar to the reader while the other column switches to another simultaneous dialogue in Hungarian, Spanish or French. As I read the English half, I continually glance over, looking for familiar characters sometimes understanding (if it’s French), sometimes not (Hungarian).

Being constantly surrounded by a foreign (although slowly more customary) language makes me feel like a split page from Self. I am the page. I am a whole person but...

My own English dialogue runs continually through my brain but I am sometimes able to tune into the other continuous dialogue that constantly flows around me. The sounds and intonations of Amharic are familiar and almost comforting so much so that when I was in Dubai alone, I purposefully walked close enough to Ethiopians to hear those distinct lilts and tones.

I can feel disconnected. After some time alone at home – reading or watching a movie – I leave the house and there’s a distinct, almost audible click in my brain that reminds me of where I am and that my ever-developing Amharic may be required. Sitting at a table full of Amharic-speaking friends, knowing they’re speaking and so therefore I should somehow understand but only managing to blink at the joke can instantly induce loneliness.

I recently realized I no longer casually overhear conversations. It’s become mere words that I catch, which means I’m almost continually in my own head. I know this place is changing me, changing my synapses in other ways but language-wise, I’m waiting for my brain to adapt. It will force itself to catch up.

On a random street, I recognized my name in Amharic script. It’s those little gleeful moments that I hope will string together to create a woven page.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

look what my friend made!

I think we all need to pupate once in a while.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

look what i made!

My current addictions (which include some obsessive compulsive like behaviours. I’m a little afraid for myself):

  • sewing
  • that damn snake game on the boyfriend’s mobile
  • chocolate
  • dabo ferfer

I’ve never sewn before. Well, I’ve never had a sewing project. On the odd occasion I attempted to reattach a button but without success. I learned to sew through osmosis actually. You’re thinking from my mother. But you’d be wrong.

It was a roommate who sewed for a living. We always had an odd collection of wedding dresses around (I was always tempted to try one on…the first and last time I’d ever wear a proper wedding dress…but never did) because she did the beadwork at all hours of the night. So while I was watching tv, reading, making dinner she was sewing. The two years I lived with her, I never got a lesson. It always seemed like a mysterious process to me. A process that I knew could change people. This knowledge was passed to me from my mom. She became a different person once the sewing basket came out from the closet. She always asked me to get it for her. It was a very 70’s olive green colour with a soft cushiony bit under the lid where all the pins were stuck. There were trays loaded with thread and different coloured buttons so much so it couldn’t close properly. She could reattach buttons although with the odd frustrated sigh. If the sewing machine had to come out, it was best to leave the room and play outside. Generally a project never got finished because it ended with screams of “oh! this STU-pid machine!” I still don’t know if it was the machine or the user but for me the act of sewing was forever combined with an aura of fear and mystery that I thought best to leave alone.

So why start sewing now, you ask? Boredom is a great motivator. Not too long ago, I tried to fulfill my wifely duty by fixing one of the boyfriend’s shirts and it wasn’t that painful. I’ve wanted to make odd looking/disfigured dolls since seeing them at a craft fair in Toronto last winter and now I have plenty of time on my hands and my hands want to be busy. One trip to Merkato was all it took to acquire the necessities.

for the love is proud to present the newly formed “Imperfections” label (slogan: cause who’s perfect?) with malformed dolls of various sizes, colours, shapes and limbs.

I think the roommate would be proud.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

fasting? yes, please!

As a former vegetarian, I can’t tell you how excited I am about not eating meat. Or rather, I can tell you. In Ethiopia, there’s a whole culture that revolves around eating.

Holidays mean a lot of eating. A whole sheep is bought (depending on income, sometimes two with a maybe a goat thrown in there). Also on an everyday level, as part of being a good host (which Ethiopians are incredibly good at), food is piled and piled on your plate. Third helpings even. And if you refuse, they implore you with sad eyes and “please”. I’ve developed necessary tricks when visiting the boyfriend’s father to avoid being stuffed to the point of bursting.

There’s a phrase “eneu bela” which is (I think) essentially “we eat” but is said as an invitation to eat. When it happens to me, I often feel uncomfortable. I was at the immigration office extending my visa and one of the employees was eating and he invited me to have some of his lunch. That’s just really odd by Canadian standards. I get the feeling it’s rude to refuse and it’s also rude not to invite people to eat your food (guilty as charged).

There’s also “gursha” which is essentially feeding someone a mouthful of food by hand. It’s supposed to be affectionate but again can make me uncomfortable. (oh us Canadians! we’re so uptight!)

Ethiopians are big on meat. Raw meat is savoured, which can testify to this fact. So for me, instituted fasting means I don’t have to eat meat, but more importantly, I don’t have to refuse meat offered to me in any of the above situations. Saying no to meat seemed offensive but now it’s a whole array of veggietables I can choose from and I don’t even have to stress that meat will be presented to me in any form. So yes, I’m excited.

Just last weekend, we had lunch at the boyfriend’s father’s house. Because it was the last few days before fasting began, all there was to eat were meat dishes. The father in law offered a bowl of said meat. I could see vertebrae. I could see gleaming fat. Then I saw a jaw bone complete with the browning teeth. Face meat…that’s where I draw the line.