Category Archives: Ethiopia

Feast and Famine



                     Feast and Famine


More is less,
I have heard.
I take another bite of chocolate,
starting more of me.
I keep getting fatter,
tasting delicious
love in my cheeks,
on my tongue.

It nibbles at my teeth.
My dental bills send my dentist to Singapore.
I floss more between my teeth.
I don’t listen
when other people discuss their diets.

It is painful
filling cavities with food.
It gets hard to sit in theaters,
my stomach pressing against my chest.
People ask if I am pregnant.
I say yes.
I am giving birth to more of me.

Meanwhile, I’m a good listener.
People eat my ears up,
take big chunks of them.
I can grow more.
Right now,
this third croissant
is going to my ear.
The next will grow me
more tongue, bigger lips.
When you notice and inquire,
I’m going to tell you stories
that will wind around your skinny waist
like snakes or punk belts,
coil over coil.

This mouth has blistered
in the sun of Africa
in countries now starving.
Well, they were even starving then.
And children sat very close
and learned the words I pointed to.
In the market,
women taught the words
that my mouth needed
to buy their goods.
This is what I bought
in Bati market
on those three hills
where the desert caravans
would wind,
where the high black breasts jutted,
where the scarred faces sought beauty.

In the red dryness,
I bought a silver beaded marriage necklace for myself.
An old woman offered it.
I thought she had done with it, it was such a bargain.
Years later, looking through my photographs,
I saw my necklace on the neck of a young girl––
her bride price purchased for ten dollars.
I never wear it.
It is so beautiful
and I
am growing larger
to feel more ashamed.

I bought also:

lemons, string and wooden beads,
embroidered strips to make a belt of,
Lalibela crosses out of brass,
Shawls as thin as gauze,
a bride dress to be packed away,
camel dung chips for my fire.

On the dead television
in the other room,
some nights they show worlds
that are not strange to me.

Things haven’t changed that much,
 though fewer die now than back then.
I’m not insensitive. I send money
I send money
I send money
but it’s never enough.
What I want to send back
is the necklace.

Too late. That young girl is dead,
buried in a woman forty years older.
I eat for her grandchildren.
I imagine their bellies
swelling with the food I eat for them.
I can hardly ever eat enough.


daily life color065

Picture taken at Bati Market, Ethiopia, 1973


For the dVerse Poets challengeto write about some hidden part of ourselves–something we would ordinarily not talk about.

Swallowing Truth

Three days ago, I started thinking of an old friend from 43 years and 8,000 miles ago, wondering if there was any way I could locate him. We had known each other in Africa, both having come to the U.S. when Ethiopia fell into its violent civil war, leaving our mutual friend (my lover and his friend since childhood) in Africa. He had worked diligently to get his friend to leave Africa and I had urged him to as well, but he had repeatedly refused to do so.

Half a country apart, we met only once after coming to the States and talked twice on the phone—the last time when he informed me of the assassination of our mutual friend about a year after I’d returned to the States. Since then, I’ve gone on to new loves and new lives, but I’ve written many times about those years in Africa, idealized my lover and imagined him to be the hero in death he’d always been to me in life.

Then, miraculously, two days ago (one day after I’d thought of trying to locate him myself and over forty years since I’d last talked to him on the phone) I received a message from my old friend asking me to friend him on Facebook and yesterday, we shared a two-hour phone call. Much of that phone call was taken up by his telling me the whole truth about my lover’s death in Africa forty-three  years ago.

“He loved you, Judy. He really loved you, and he was a different man with you. Perhaps if we had both stayed in Africa, his story would have turned out differently, but when we both left at once, he was lonely and looking for friends. They saw his charisma and charm and they drew him in. They gave him power.” This was when he told me the part of the story he had not told me so many years ago. This is when the truth of what happened after I left Africa came out. It has been a hard truth to swallow. My sister, who visited me in Africa and who knows more of that story than most, told me I should perhaps not talk to anyone else about what I had just revealed to her—to remain quiet for awhile and think this out for myself. Perhaps to write about it.

It is hard to write about such things without trivializing them, and I have tried for the past 24 hours to avoid doing so just as I’ve tried to avoid thinking about it. Neither plan seems to have worked. It was what I thought about all day, the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep, the first thing I thought about upon awakening when I saw today’s prompt, and it is what I’m thinking about now as I write the introduction to this poem. What do we do with old shattered memories that we’ve held in esteem for more than half our lives?  What do we do with the favorite photographs? How do we write about a love story turned into a horror story? I guess we do the best we can. This is my first attempt to deal with that whole truth.

Swallowing Truth

My life for now grown raw and hollow,
this bitter pill I cannot swallow.

Which path of memory to follow?

That handsome man, arms filled with flowers,
love-filled nights and fun-filled hours 
held fast in each others’ powers.

A small-town girl who lived through books,
twisting on romance’s hooks,

could not resist your charm and looks.

I could not guess the other side—
the violence your looks belied—
that truth that I must now abide.

New truths cast old beliefs asunder
as they gut and rip and plunder
those short years of joy and wonder.

Your truths are painful—sharply tined.
Miscast as hero in my mind,
you chose the other side, I find.

This is what your old friend said.
He said your power went to your head—
so many slaughtered the streets ran red.

How could the one who turned my heart
liquid from the very start
have torn so many lives apart?

These stories spun far in the past
have come together here, at last,
can’t be forgotten, the die is cast.

Beware the truths that you might seek.
Truth has a non-discerning beak
that rips asunder the frail and weak.

Be careful what you ask and do
in opening the past anew.
The truth you swallow may swallow you.


The prompt word today is swallow.

Happy Ending

Andy and I outside our luxurious home formed of mud, manure and straw.  Dirt floors.  No running water. No bathroom. No electricity.

Mary has asked that I tell more of the story about the trial of the man who abducted me and the aftermath––especially  about Andu Alem and why I ended up not leaving Ethiopia after this horrid occurence.  I think the lady craves a happy ending, so here it is.  In the past segment, found HERE, I skipped over most of the information about the trial.  Here is more information as well as some of the aftermath, including Andy.  It starts the morning after I was accosted by two of Solomon Kidane’s friends who threatened my life and the life of my friends if I didn’t withdraw charges against him. The story continues:

The next day I went with my attorney and we started making the rounds of government offices and officials, eventually making it up to the equivalent of the national Attorney General. The way the Ethiopian justice system works is to hear an hour or two of testimony per week for each case it is adjudicating. This can lead to very long trials—sometimes a matter of years—and businessmen learn to devote one day a week to sitting in court to plead various issues before the court. After hearing my story, however, the Attorney General granted special dispensation for my testimony to be heard in one or two long sessions or for as long as it would take so I could then be free to leave the country. The fact that he had suspended this custom for me was remarkable, explained my attorney, in that it was without precendent. A court date was set for the following week.

The day of the trial, my lawyer and the embassy interpreter picked me up in a taxi and we rode to the courts building. They led me to the courtroom, where another case was being heard. Interestingly enough, it was the trial of a young Tegrian woman who had been among the hijackers who had hijacked the Air Ethiopian plane that I have mentioned formerly. Ironically enough, she was the cause of “Solomon Kidane” and the other security guards being on my plane and so was responsible for my kidnapping as well. It is a further irony that the hijacking had been done to call attention to the revolutionary cause that Solomon Kidane and his friends were also sympathetic to.

The first day of the trial, I sat in court watching several other cases being presented. I was curious about what was being said, but remained unenlightened for all of the testimony was, of course, in Amharic. When my case came up, they charged a young man sitting on the right hand side of the aisle with the crime. When they asked if his name was Solomon Kidane, he said no, presenting his identity papers. Clearly, his attorney said, they had arrested the wrong man. The judge told him to turn around and face me and asked me if this was the man who had abducted and molested me. I was confused. Solomon Kidane had had a full Afro, whereas this young man had closely cropped hair. Could they have substituted someone else in his place? What could have happened? He looked so different. How could I be sure that this was the man who assaulted me? Then I noticed the huge goose egg on his forehead in the exact same place where I had hit him over the head with the lamp. At the same time, I remembered him showing me various i.d.’s that he had used in his role as a secret security agent.

“I am sure he is the man,” I said to the three judges hearing my case, and went on to explain to them that Solomon Kidane was just one of his many identities.

For the next three hours, his lawyer did more to prove my moral turpitude than to defend his client. Was I a virgin, he asked? How many men had I slept with. Why was I crying when the airplane left Lalibela and who were the two men who had brought me to the plane? Had I slept with one of them? I answered truthfully that yes, I had. Had I slept with both of them? No, I had not. Why was I traveling alone he asked, and did I sleep with many men as I traveled. No, I did not. Had I not propositioned this man and asked to meet his family? When he came, had he presented me with a gift? Yes, I answered. In accepting this gift, was I not expressing an interest in this young man, and did I feel it was proper to accept a gift from a man who was a stranger. It was a cheap shamma that could be purchased in the marked for the equivalent of $3 American, I answered, and I felt it would be rude to refuse. In return, I had given him a hat I had bought that had cost much more. Was I aware that in Ethiopia an exchange of gifts like this could indicate an intention to wed, he asked? No, I answered. And was I aware that abduction of a bride was still a behavior often practiced there?
“And is saying you are going to kill your bride after raping her also an established tradition? “ I asked.

At the end of my three hours of testimony, in which his lawyer did everything to discredit me and to prove my moral unworthiness, Solomon Kidane was arrested and ordered to stand trial. The judges then released me from obligation to the court.

One very interesting twist to the story is that I was in sympathy with the E.L.F. cause and felt it justified, and so I never did reveal to police, my attorney, the embassy or the judges that these men were all E.L.F. members. If Solomon Kidane was to go to jail, I wanted it to be for his personal actions, not his political ones. I believe to this day that the men didn’t realize that I could understand their political ravings as they got drunker and by the time the night was over, they had given away a secret that I was wise not to reveal I understood.

The day after my court testimony finished, I was preparing to depart for Khartoum to join Deirdre when a letter was delivered to me via Poste Restante. It was from Andy, who stated that he had heard what “that man” had done to me. “He is just devil!” he stated in his usual colorful English, and he went on to say that sending me away was the biggest mistake of his life, and that I should come back to Lalibela to live with him until they were forced by the upcoming rainy season to journey out over the mountains via Land Rover to go back to Addis. “After that, we will travel to Kenya, and then we will marry,” he said.

Two days later, I was soaring low over a familiar grass landing field. Andy and Tessie met me with arms full of flowers. How did they know I was coming? I asked. It was Tessie who answered that they had met every plane since Andy had written the letter telling me to come back. When we went to the Seven Olives that night for a welcome back celebration, I noticed that the flower garden was completely shorn of flowers. “Every day, they granted us permission to cut flowers for your arrival,” admitted Andu Alem. “By the time you finally came, we had had cut every flower.” That night, lay singers in the Tej house once again sang the song of my coming back, and staying with Andy, and opening up “The Judy and Andy Souvenir Shop.” They had predicted it, they insisted. As it turns out, the ending to our story did not turn out as foretold, but in this way I nonetheless entered into the lore of this mountain village so far removed from civilization.

(Even though the name he used with me was fictional, I have changed the false name he used to “Solomon Kidane.” Ironic that I would change a real false name to a false false name, isn’t it?)




The Rutted Road

The Rutted Road

It’s been two years since I wrote about the bad decision that led to life-threatening events that turned into one of the most exciting adventures of my lifetime.  If you haven’t already read about my life in Ethiopia in the 1 1/2 years that led up to the revolution that deposed Haile Selassie, go HERE. After spending an hour finding links to the different segments of that story and getting ready to post this, I see that I posted a link to this story in July of 2015, so if you’ve already read it, you may choose not to read it again.  I’ll post another response to this prompt later today.  if you haven’t read it and have some time, then go to the link above. (In fact, I meant to post this twelve hours ago but just found it in drafts.)

The Prompt: The Road Less Traveled––Pinpoint a moment in your past where you had to make a big decision. Write about that other alternate life that could have unfolded.

Leaves in a Dry Wind

Version 2
The essay I am reproducing below is a reply to a comment made in my blog by OromianEconomist regarding the pictures and short essay on my blog  (You can find them HERE.) in which I referred to the Ethiopian drought of the early 1970’s. This was his comment:

“The same is going on right now in Ethiopia. Authorities are either hiding the presence of famine or stealing the food aid.”

He included the below link to an article written about the current drought which I suggest you read.      My comments follow below.

                                                           Leaves in a Dry Wind

I wrote this initially short reply to the Oromian Economist’s comment on my blog, but then I seemed to just keep writing and writing until it turned into an essay of sorts.  The facts are from memory and I realize I need to do some further research and I’d be open to any comments by people more in the know than I was at the time, but this is a short view of what I observed in Ethiopia when I traveled and lived there in 1973 and 1974:

I was in Ethiopia in the drought years of 1973 and 74. I saw the sacks of grain for sale in the market in Addis Ababa that said, “Gift of the people of the United States of America.” The grain was being sold and the money pocketed by government ministers. One month the teachers in my school (Medehane Alem T’mhrtebet) elected to forego our salaries and use the money to buy food and hire trucks to take it to the drought areas. I was on the committee set up to deal with this transfer, but the government said it could not allow private citizens (or expats such as myself) to handle the money or the distribution. What actually happened was that the government did hold back the money, but they merely used it to pay our next month’s salary. Not a penny of that money was ever used for drought relief.

Many people at that time were not even aware of the drought because the starving people were not allowed to migrate into the cities but were held back by military. We were only aware because we traveled out in the country via bus. Dead cattle dotted the countryside and in places people formed human chains across the road to stop the buses. This was in Wollo Province, enroute from Addis to Dessie. We threw all the food and money we had out of the windows of the bus, but then traveled on. There didn’t seem to be anything being done at that time nor any means for anyone to deal with the problem.

There was one relief agency and I can’t remember whether it was Swiss or Swedish, where the aid was brought to Africa and distributed by the country it was being sent from. I had a friend who was employed by this organization and I traveled with him at one point. He told me that this was the only aid that was actually getting to the people and that no other country actually sent people to insure that the aid was being distributed to the people who needed it. This was a long time ago and my memory is spotty, but I am thinking that they were setting up schools that he was inspecting, but it may have been other agencies.

We traveled from Addis past Bahir Dar and Lake Tana (source of the Blue Nile) and Gondar, up to Asmara. This was through the Semian mountains, noted for shiftas (robbers) and we traveled by caravan with armed guards as actually I had earlier when I had come out of the Lalibela region and back into Addis. Other trips were to the Awash Valley and then later to Gambela, to camps where Sudanese refugee camps had formerly been set up. My friends were Ethiopian nurses there.

When we traveled to Harrar, it was because all of the schools in Addis had been closed down due to student demonstrations and strikes. They had started stoning buses. The rumors were that the buses were all owned by members of the royal family, but I don’t know if this was true. In spite of the fact that almost no students were still attending school, we teachers were told that so long as one student showed up for class that we needed to show up. On my last day of school, I was on a bus that was stoned. A large stone shattered the glass near the window where I was standing, as the bus was full. The next stone whistled past just grazing my ear. After that, the buses all stopped running and they closed down my school. We had been wanting to go to Harrar, so we traveled by train. The trains were totally full with people standing and sleeping in the aisles as well. At times we would see people standing by the side of the tracks with camels. Someone from the train would open one of the doors and throw huge sacks of smuggled goods out to these desert nomads who were contraband runners.

After a few days in Harrar, we rode the train back into Addis and as we rode into the city, we saw the students swarming over the tracks behind us. I think we were on the last train back into Addis. The revolution had been going on for some time but we were just seeing it as student protest. The military later took over the airport and the night of my birthday and good-bye celebration, (my sister and I were due to leave the next day to travel further in Africa and then to go back to the states to see my father who was very ill) the coup was staged. The military had used the students to start the revolution but in the coming years, most of the young people I knew were killed by one wave of revolutionaries after another. They had more or less been used by the military for their own purposes and my only friends who made it through that period alive were ones who came to the U.S. or Canada.

My boyfriend who was shot defending me the first day after the coup miraculously survived a bullet that went all the way through his body and out the other side. I stayed for another month until he was out of hospital, then came back to the United States and have never returned to Ethiopia. My boyfriend became involved in politics and two years later, he was warned to leave Ethiopia by yet another wave of revolutionaries espousing a different branch of communism. When he refused, he was assassinated in the road right outside the hospital where we had spent our last month together.

I blindly stumbled through this very sad and violent slice of Ethiopian history not fully understanding all that was going on. My efforts to write about it since have always been stopped by my realization that I really didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of everything that was happening and probably still don’t. But, for sure, I realize that my experiences in no way equalled those of Ethiopian citizens caught within those circumstances. They could not just travel blithely through them as I did. And few of them lived to tell the story I am telling only sketchily, according to my own experience and probably faulty memory.

I was there for that lavish celebration staged for Haile Selassie’s birthday. When members of the royal family were arrested after the coup, they were put in the prison that was on the other side of the garden wall of my house near Mexico Square. When Haile Selassie was removed from the Royal Palace after my return to the states, he was arrested by my boyfriend’s father, who was a Colonel in the military and put into a little blue Volkswagon that was the car Andy and I used while I was in Addis. I saw Selassie say something to Colonel Getachew as he got into the car and I asked Andy what he had said. What he said was, “Am I reduced to this–riding in a Volkswagen?” In reply, Col. Getachew said, “Your majesty, most of your subjects walk.”

In my years in Ethiopia, I had seen Selassie riding around the countryside in the backseat of his Rolls Royce, sitting on a jumper seat to raise him up enough to see and be seen through the windows, his Chihuahuas running back and forth in the back window. Everyone along the roads bowed as he passed and Andy tried to pull me down into a bow. “It is for respect for our emperor,” he told me, but I told him I refused to bow to this man who lived in a palace and rode through his country in a Rolls and walked through the marketplace dispensing birr notes to the people when other subjects were starving. If he saw us, and if he saw the little blue Volkswagen parked at the side of the road, little did he know that one day he would be driven away in that very car. History can be chilling and its stories full of ironies that, known by few, blow away like leaves in the winds of the next event and the next and the next.  (This prompt called for taking two fictional characters from different books and having them meet and interact. I have chosen to depict events that occurred when a real person chose to enter a different world. Truth can be much more interesting than fiction.  I found this to be true during my years in Ethiopia.)

Ethiopian Drought Area, 1973: One Word Photo Challenge

                                                          Ethiopian Drought Area, 1973

The below pictures were taken in the Bati market of Ethiopia in the middle of the drought area. Here highland farmers met the lowland nomadic traders to exchange food for camel dung or other commodities.

daily life color069 daily life color070 daily life color065 (1) daily life color067The woman in back is cornrowing the hair of the woman in front.  Look at how finely plaited it is. The two sides of her hair contain the same amount of hair!

daily life color071

I believe this village was Dessi. We drove for two days through the drought area on local bus to get here.  I’ve talked about that trip HERE.

Version 2
In the village we were going to, women walked for 3 hours with these heavy clay jars on their backs to get water. This was the water we drank and cooked and bathed with.  Needless to say, we were very sparing of water usage.  When I later went back and lived in that village for a month, for my once-weekly bath, I used a small pitcher of water, poured in a meager stream over my head as I stood in a small basin. A bit of water, shampoo and soap, and then the rest of the water to rinse off. I’m sure my drainage water was then used for something. Probably to settle the dust on the dirt floor or to clean with. Hopefully, not for that night’s soup.

Danger in Disguise

                                                        Danger in Disguise

Today’s prompt: Brilliant DisguiseTell us about a time when someone had you completely fooled, where the wool was pulled right over your eyes and you got hoodwinked, but good. Was it a humorous experience or one you’d rather forget? What was the outcome?

Today is my first day of assisting with Camp Estrella, a two-week camp for kids, so no time to post a new post.  I’ve written to this prompt before though, so if you haven’t read my post about being kidnapped in Ethiopia, go HERE.  If you’ve read it, take the day off and I’ll post tonight.

Crisis Reasoning


I’ve often thought about how I might react in a crisis and generally I have feared that I would become scattered and rattled and not be of much use.  When I think back on past crises, however, it seems that I act the opposite of how I project I would act in future crises.  What I have done in the past is to calm down and think very quickly of possible responses to the situation, settle on one and act.  The fact that I am still alive is testimony to my actually being able to act very calmly in a crisis.  I think I’ve described all of the situations in past posts, so rather than repeat them here, I’m going to try to find links.

Kidnapping in Africa: Naive in Africa
Shooting incident in Africa:
Trapped Outside in a Mountain Blizzard in Wyoming:

Well, due to my terrible tagging, I could only find a link to one of the stories.  I’ll keep searching, but in the meantime if anyone else can find a link to these other stories, please HELP.  I’m trying to remain calm in spite of my frustration over this crisis!!!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “In a Crisis.” Honestly evaluate the way you respond to crisis situations. Are you happy with the way you react?

New World Miracle: NaPoWriMo 2015, Day 9

New World Miracle1
New World Miracle2 New World Miracle3

Today’s prompt is to write a visual poem.  This is one I tried to publish earlier this year when WordPress was not accepting pingbacks, so perhaps not many have seen it, and certainly not in this form, as when I published it, it was all evened out into regular stanzas by the blog formatting.  It occurred to me to save it in jpeg and treat the pages as photographs and that seems to have worked.