There are things that are absent here. One highly conspicuous absence are joggers. Running or jogging purely for the physical benefits of it does not seem to exist amongst the local population. I suspect it is because a lot of them spend a proportion of their time actually up and about, walking or running somewhere for a reason, rather than sitting in front of a computer all day. I only mention it because today, as we went by Arat Kilo on the bus, I saw someone jogging. They were white and wearing their jogging outfit (singlet, small shorts, special shoes). I couldn't help but think how ridiculous they looked. Having said that of course, as soon as I get back to London I will be out doing exercises in the park and looking just as ridiculous. It's just a different culture, different needs and different times.
Another absence is that of indication lights on cars and buses. They don't work, no one uses them and even if they did, no one would pay any attention to them. You've got to love this place.
Conversations that I've had here, two in particular that I recall. The first was with Sha as we sat in 'Lucy's' a restaurant in Sidist Kilo. When Amanda was in the toilet we got to talking about the beginning of the Hand in Hand project. Sha told me that he worked in a Coca Cola factory and that Tesfahun worked in administration, both in Addis Ababa. In their time off from work they cultivated the idea of this project and one day they decided to finish with their jobs and work full-time on their project. What began as a project for seven children is now at 218. It is clear that they are both extremely passionate about their work and have sacrificed a lot on behalf of the kids.
The other conversation was one I had today with Tesfahun down at the project. He said he'd been reading my blog via Facebook and he mentioned one of my very first posts about my impressions of the place. Particularly in terms of relative 'busy-ness'. Amanda had pointed out previously that the working day here is very different from that in the UK. I scanned my brain and worried and tried to remember what I had said, hoping I hadn't been offensive in anyway… in essence I had said that things were not as busy as I would have liked. To his eternal credit Tesfahun was not upset with me, he was more curious as to what it was like in London. We had an interesting talk about it. Having been here a little while now, it is easier to see that our societies are so incredibly different on so many levels that it's impossible to compare something like a work day.
We also talked about families and how different they are. For example Amanda brought me home to meet her mother, brother and sister after two months. In Addis Tesfahun tells me that it would be several years before such a thing would be allowed. The prevailing culture of parents and children is that children do not question their parents on any matter, they do not speak out of turn. This is something that Tesfahun and the boys at the project are trying to change. One of their aims with the project is to build the self esteem of the kids involved, to feel as if they can question and be curious about the world without fear of being told to shut up. It has been clear in the workshops that we ran last week that their methods seem to be working. Even though I have no idea what they are talking about when they speak animatedly in Amharic, it is clear there is a dialogue between the kids and the project leaders that is open and refreshing. I have not heard a single raised voice.
I still have so much to learn about this culture and have very little time left here.
The water is gone again from the house. Amanda would like to wash her hair. I would also like to wash. I find myself wondering how those who live in the tin hovels we pass everyday wash. We experienced begging on an exponential scale today. It's a public holiday and generosity is expected I think. Some mothers send their children chasing after us, a woman walks next to us for half a mile holding a baby with one hand and extending the other for money. One man grabs Manda, then he grabs me and when he realises he's not getting anything he gives me a good shove on the shoulder. I find myself getting angry at these people. People who seem to be using their children to beg, or who get aggressive when you don't give them anything. Then immediately I feel guilty.
The problem is vast and really unfathomable and when confronted on a personal level it is easy to regress to an 'I can't help you' mentality. And in some ways its true. If you give money it may well be spent on things other than food and it's not going to solve anything. They'll still be hungry tomorrow. Poverty is endemic in this country. I'm not sure what it is that can help. It's difficult and frustrating if you think about it too hard. But then I am reminded of something that Mother Theresa said:
'There are no great deeds, only small deeds done with great love.'
While I don't agree with Mother Theresa on other points, this is one I keep coming back to out here. If you can raise a smile by shaking a hand then you should do it, if you can teach a song or a game then do. Who knows? It might make all the difference.
The last couple of days we have been unable to work with the charity, Manda got sick with something that meant she needed to be close to (if not sitting on) a functioning toilet for the majority of the day and then it's a public holiday 'Mescal' so the kids won't be at the project. We have managed to do some work for the charity remotely though such as revising their sponsorship form. Manda revised the sponsorship form and I annoyed her by making tiny, inconsequential amendments that satisfied nothing except my own desire to make things look nice.
I am sad to report that Amanda has been the victim of pickpockets down by Megananya Junction. While one has to admire the skill of them (Amanda was actually holding onto her bag at the time) I can't help but feel disappointed. I'm not disappointed that such things happen so to speak, but disappointed that one thing that I felt was absolutely sure to happen (based on my preconceptions about Africa)actually did happen. So many things have challenged and changed my perception for the better of this beautiful country and it's fascinating culture. It's just annoying that this should have happened.
Amanda is taking it all with the wonderful grace she shows in everything, saying that whoever took the money probably needed it far more than her. Unfortunately I am not blessed with a similar way. Whilst it's true, I do not know the circumstances of the thief, they could be stealing because they are starving, or have a family to feed (either of these could easily be true in this poverty ridden city), but equally the thief does not know the circumstances of those they are stealing from. True, we do not look as if we are starving, and we have silly white faces that mark us as coming from countries of relative wealth, but Amanda is not well off. In fact she has about $70 US to last another five weeks and the money that was taken was relatively important to her. She is also here volunteering her time and her own money to help Ethiopian children whom she really cares about. She is not just another Ferenge here to see the sights, she is doing work that is really important and selfless. I wonder if the thief would still have taken her money if they knew why she was here.
Today we walk down to Sholla market to buy some food from the local supermarket. Everywhere we go there are children and women selling flowers for Meskal, a huge festival here that celebrates the finding of the true cross in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Another feature is the killing of a sheep. We pass a number of sheep looking suspicious and trying to hide at the back of flocks. Sholla market is incredible, there are chickens everywhere being held by the feet or lining the pathway, a chicken is shoved unceremoniously in front of us and squawks its disapproval of our strange faces. Children greet us enthusiastically with cries of 'Money', 'Money, money' and 'Give me money' which I roughly translate as 'Hello' in Amharic. Locals shout 'Ferenge' (foreigner) at us. We shout 'Abasha' (Ethiopian) back.
One thing I cannot get over are the smells of the city. It's like a physical assault on the senses, like being invaded by the army of a small country intent on annexing your nose. It's powerful, intense and intoxicating. Combined with the heat it creates a giddy sort of feeling. I'm not saying the smell is bad (although in some places it is just about the worst thing your olfactory nerve will ever experience) it's just overwhelming. Garlic and onion permeate the air, the smell of fresh sheep, donkey and chicken poo mingle with it, the scent of the local cooking allies with the diesel of the passing cars, open urinals (the gutter) and the mescal flowers, burning frankincense and strong coffee, all merge together to create the distinctive smell that is the city. Addis Ababa. City of Scent.
One our way back up through the market we encounter a Higer (one of the larger buses) that has stopped and is letting passengers off. They open the back where the engine is to check something. Out of the engine they pull a number of chickens. It is the first time I have seen a Chicken Powered Bus. I believe Ethiopia maybe ahead of it's time.
Meskal begins to get underway whilst we are back at the house. Bonfires light up around the city and everywhere there is the scent of burning herbs, smoke rises up into the night from the lights below. The rhythmic Ethiopian singing is heard across the city. The power goes out (a regular occurrence - we get a piece of chocolate if bothe the water and power go off at the same time) before we begin cooking and we have a new challenge. Cooking by Candlelight. Frank, Amanda and I manage to put together some sort of a bolognaise in the dark. We celebrate our achievements with Rob and Anna who provide a gin and tonic. Fluffy sits outside whining.
Just another day in Addis.
Poos, Showers and Testy Burger
As I write this, Amanda is sitting next to me and saying repeatedly 'I want a shower! I want a poo and I want a shower!'
Let me explain:
The water has not been functioning in our house for three days. Therefore, no shower, no bath, the only way you can wash your hands is by collecting a carton of water outside and pouring it on yourself. The only way you can flush the toilet is by pouring the entire contents of a bucket on the contents of your bowels. Unfortunately, Amanda has not been able to experience this second one because of three days of constipation. This was brought on (we believe) by a bout of diarrhoea which she countered by taking twice the amount of Immodium than she probably should have.
So that brings us up to date, apart from one final thing...
Testy Burger is the name of a burger restaurant in the upperclass suburb of Bole. We were walking along the Bole road on our way to the cinema (which I can say is lovely and cheap, definitely nicer than the Cineworld in Wood Green). We were looking for a place to eat when we came across this delightful spelling mistake in a huge red and yellow sign above a pleasant looking restaurant. At least we hope that it was a spelling mistake.
Just a little digression about a project I worked on in London early in September…
In the week before I left for Ethiopia I had the privilege to work on a project called 'These Trees Are Made of Blood' by Amy Draper, a talented director who had her project shortlisted for the Samuel Beckett Award in London. I was employed as musician and songwriter for the project, and was fortunate enough to have Angie Fullman (the Bee and singer) and Hannah Morgan (Violinist extraordinaire) working with me on the project. It was six full days of work, the last three being 12 hour days.
The performance itself is based around the Argentine 'Dirty War' of the late 1970's, early 1980's. For those who had never heard about it (as I had) it turns out that this is one of the most miserable periods of human history. In 1976, after two years of incompetent governance by the wife of the late Juan Peron, three generals (head of Army, Navy and Airforce) took control of the country in what they called the 'Gentleman's Coup'. Their aim being to restore order and national pride to their country. Unfortunately, their means of achieving their aims involved the 'disappearing' of (according to Argentinian human rights groups) approximately 30,000 Argentinian 'subversives'. To disappear meant to be kidnapped, suffer horrific physical and psychological torture, then be killed by various methods including being drugged and thrown out of aeroplanes into the River Plate. And all this happened while those responsible denied any knowledge of the disappeared ever having existed. Desaparecidos (the disappeared) were numbers, kept in tubes with hoods and blindfolds over their heads, suffering endless horrors at the hands of incredibly sadistic torturers, sometimes for years, struggling desperately just to hold on to what it was to be a human. And when it finally all ended, the new administration (whilst originally condemning the regime and sentencing its leaders to Prison Perpetua - life imprisonment) were eventually pardoned and these sadistic, criminals walk free amongst the population of Argentina today on the same streets as those they tormented.
The play itself is devised around a mother whose daughter was disappeared and the desperate longing to know what happened to her daughter. It is set in a cabaret within the woman's mind, which acts as a grotesque representation of her struggle with her own demons and those represented by the Junta (the generals).
It was an incredibly interesting, enlightening and inspiring week, during which I wrote a number of songs and we performed some great work at the end of it I think. It was a wonderful mix of people from authentic cabaret artists, actors, dancers and musicians all held together by the steady hand of Amy Draper as director and Paul as writer.
After having worked on the first week, Amy, Paul, Hannah and me fired thoughts and ideas back and forth about where the project would develop for the next development session in October. After having seen an authentic cabaret, the possibilities seem endless.
I have been in Ethiopia for a couple of weeks now, engrossed in a book that Amy lent me called 'The Lexicon of Terror' which goes into huge detail as to what happened during the Dirty War, how it happened, personal experiences of survivors and those responsible. I find it so hard to think that such things occurred in my lifetime, such unspeakable atrocities and repression. It has also opened my eyes to the fact that such things are still happening now in other parts of the world. To a lesser extent perhaps but the intent behind it remains the same.
I have been reading page after page in disbelief that human beings can be so cruel to each other, that many of these torturers thought that the Nazis were doing brilliant work. And that even, now some of them can look at themselves and say that they were doing the work of god and the work of good.
I look forward to working on the next session from October 8-12 at Shoreditch Town Hall. It's already sold out but I'll let you know about the final version (when we get there!).