After a friend posted this video…
…it reminded me of the craziness of Addis driving… and with all the rain we’ve been getting here in Boston lately, I thought back to a particularly eventful night from last year around this time. I feel like this incident perfectly illustrates how the most routine things – in this case, the commute home – can be an epic adventure when traveling! Same goes for seemingly-everyday tasks like going grocery shopping, traveling to a nearby town, or going for a run.
Many people, understandably, find this characteristic exhausting and frustrating– they may be thinking, “why in the world should I have to put so much effort into such a simple task? Clearly this country is disorganized, unclean, corrupt.” And I get that. On one level, it’s completely true! However, I think the joy of exploring a new place is once you get to see MORE of it than that; a deeper level, the level of human interaction. You see complete strangers engaging in lively conversation on a bus. The tender and careful way a man in a business suit helps an old lady up some stairs, as though she was his grandmother. The ease with which buying a few kilos of tomatoes can spark a heated round of bargaining– but one that ends in laughter, because ultimately you played the bargaining game, and that is good. These are the small details that make a place come alive, and I hope to simultaneously treasure the sparkle of these interactions from places I’ve visited… and discover the new joys of this wonderful city.
But anyway, back to the story I’d written down a year ago but never uploaded due to one internet blackout or another. It’s simply the tale of getting home from the office one night in the season of so much rain. Enjoy 🙂
The sky was unusually dark when I left the office at 6pm. Angry grey clouds all but obscured the afternoon’s golden light, except for a small glimmering patch that shone out defiantly from behind a building as I boarded the first minibus. My office is across town from where I live, and the journey home consists of three segments. In the first, from Pasteur to Piazza, I gazed out the window as the rain began pelting everything it touched. Outside, the more young and nimble began dashing to avoid the rain. Despite the impending downpour, the minibus driver shooed us off early: because of yet another construction project, the area before Piazza was completely dug up, and the road blocked off… so naturally, people found a way through anyway. Ducking under a post, hopping from rock to less-muddy rock, I wound my way to the second set of minibuses. I found one that would bring me all the way home; but, trying to work some exercise into my day, I’d taken to getting off at Stadium and walking the last third of the way home. Since you never know how long the rain will last, and I anyway had my umbrella, I figured I’d do the same today. So I hopped on another minibus that careened through the darkness and let me off at Ghion Hotel, about 100m from my normal Stadium stop. I chose what I thought would be the most direct route through the haphazard Meskel Square rotary, which coincidentally is also torn to shreds with construction. Every day a new gaping hole seems to appear, challenging the cars and their drivers to find new creative ways of navigating the chaos. I realized I’d chosen the wrong way when I saw that the connecting road was a giant pool of water. I joined a little old man with a cane, and a teenage girl with a bulky package, in finding the sliver of land next to the dumpster that wasn’t liquidy mud so we could cross to the main road. But that mud was nothing compared to the area by the main road – or what used to be a road. Whether because a pipe had burst, or because the drains couldn’t hold another drop, nearly the entire road and the normal walking area was under an indeterminate amount of water. The cars were gridlocked because some were having trouble getting over the enormous potholes. So the other pedestrians and I, when we saw that the former sidewalk was now surrounded by a deep brown moat, wove through the stopped cars trying to find another way. Two women on the other side of the moat looked apprehensively at a pair of widely spaced stones sticking out of the water. The stones were too wobbly to stand on, so I kept going, leaving them smiling at my attempt. Everywhere there was an air of dogged frenzy: everyone was anxious to get out of the rain – preferably without falling into the growing pools of water – yet they all had seen this scene before, every year with the coming of the rainy season. I got to a point where the only way to keep from falling into the water was to cling to the side-rail (while also holding my backpack in front to avoid pickpockets, my umbrella, and my lunchbag full of carrots I’d bought back at Piazza). As cars drove by, the small area of pavement was repeatedly lapped by waves of water. During one such wave, not being able to balance on the tiny side-rail, one of my shoes got drenched. Oh well, nothing to do but go on! I passed two guys heading in the opposite direction; one gave an impish grin and shrugged his shoulders, while the other said laughingly, “Dis is Ethiopia!”. I finally made it to the sidewalk.
People on the edge of the puddle-ocean had different strategies to deal with the rain and water. The women selling roasted corn on the side of the road took shelter under their umbrellas. Many people were clustered under the nearest roof – a fruit stand, a clothing shop, even the gas station! Still others hurried on. Those with plastic sandals took them off to cross the water before donning them again on land. One woman, in a gesture reminiscent of the carefree child in summer, had taken off her shoes and was walking barefoot.
By this time, it had stopped raining, and soundless lightning flashed across the dark sky. The rest of the walk home was quite lovely.
My strategy for next time? Remember my boots.