When Bob and I lived in the redwood forests of CA, we planted a bamboo forest under the redwoods and used the four varieties of bamboo in the creation of Bob’s sculpture as well as our lamps. I even used the small twigs from the black bamboo to make earrings and brooches. I’m delighted that these enterprising entrepreneurs in Ghana have found such novel uses for it and are giving jobs to 40 locals as well. Click on the URL below to see the video.
Coffee With No Ceremony
I lived in Addis Ababa adjoining Mexico Square.
I ate injera every day. Had cornrows in my hair.
I thought I knew it all, and though my language skills were poor,
I knew enough Amharic to get by in any store.
Seated in a circle, on low stools around a flame,
We watched Demekech fan the fire—this ritual the same
in every house and every village all throughout the land.
The thick and sludgy coffee was always ground by hand.
Boiled in a clay carafe, then set aside to brew
as in another little pot, some corn kernels she threw.
The popcorn taken from the flame, the colo nuts were next.
Except—we found that we had none, and we were sorely vexed.
The coffee jug was sealed up with a fresh-wound plug of grass
ready for the pouring, but one aspect of our mass
was missing, so I said I’d go to buy some at the souk,
lest our hospitality give reason for rebuke.
These little shops were many, lining both sides of the street;
and at each one, I knew the custom—always did I greet
the owner with proper respect, and always, he said, “Yes!”
when I asked if he had colo, but I couldn’t guess
why no one ever seemed to want to sell any to me.
Always the same reaction—first the shock and then the glee.
So, finally, I walked back home. My failure I admitted.
Departing, I had felt so smart, but now I felt half-witted.
What had I done wrong? I knew that every shop had colo.
The problem must have been that I had gone to get them solo!
Returning empty-handed, I felt I was to blame.
Coffee without colo was a pity and a shame.
But my roommate and our guests and cook were really most surprised.
I must have asked for something else than colo, they surmised.
What did I ask for? When I told them, they dissolved in laughter.
They said that I was lucky not to get what I asked after.
For colo had two meanings, depending on the stress
put on the first syllable, and I had made a mess.
Instead of nuts, they told me (and this was just between us,)
I had asked each souk owner—if he had a penis!
(This is a true story of only one of the gaffes I became famous for in the year and a half I taught and traveled in Ethiopia in the period leading up to the revolution that deposed Haile Selassie.) I published this four years ago but I think few were around then to read it, so here it comes again as I think it is a good example of how far I’m willing to go to extend a little hospitality.
The Ragtag prompt today is hospitable.
I’ve given a few segments of the story of my time traveling and living in Ethiopia. Some people have requested more of this story, so here is an expanded prose version of yesterday’s poem. The year is 1972. This is long so you might want to read part of it and come back later.
I was 24, just out of college, headed for whatever foreign country would hire me with no experience. The winner was Australia, and I headed out on my big life’s adventure. Setting out alone to somewhere where I knew no one, I was not scared. I was elated. I had no idea what people were like in this new environment. Perhaps they were more like me. I think I already knew that I was someone who enjoyed being the stranger. If I was the stranger, it meant all new territory for me. No one knew my family or anything about me. A youngest child, I could be judged for once completely on my own merits.
Australia was exciting, but after a year and a half of recruiting teachers from elsewhere, they decided they were overstocked and offered any of us willing to leave a payout equal to the amount of income taxes we’d been paid during the time we were in Australia. I cashed in and made $600! Wow! I thought this was enough to travel to London. My Australian roommate, Deirdre, decided to go with me. We planned to work enroute if we could and bought bus tickets from Sydney to Darwin and airline tickets from Darwin to Timor to Bali to Singapore to Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, once we got to Timor, we discovered that the airline we’d booked our flights on all the way to Sri Lanka had gone bankrupt, so we were a bit stranded. We made our way by World War II Troop barge, which we “rented” from some Indonesian fishermen, then by foot through the jungles. This was the second biggest adventure story of my life and one told in an earlier posting, but that is not the story I am telling today. Suffice it to say that eventually, after about 4 months, we made it to Africa. (If you want to read the rest of this tale, go HERE.)
The prompt today was winsome.
Two Facts Most Significant
In Considering the Elephant
Pity the poor elephant
whose nose is so extravagant
that he can’t reach the end to swipe it
when he sneezes and needs to wipe it.
And pity the poor wayfarer who
makes attempts to motor through
tundra where these beasts reside.
I fear a bad end to their ride.
If pachyderms have chanced to poop
on roadways where they drive their coupe,
and in the dark they do not view it
and by mistake drive right into it,
their chances of making it through
are driver zero and ten for poo,
for it is true the elephant
has turd piles most significant.
No accidents in Nature? I fear there are a few.
In engineering elephants, here is what I’d do:
In the front, I’d furnish the trunk a windshield wiper,
and for the other end I would have given it a diaper!
All photos taken in Tsavo Game Park, 1967. jdbphotos
As usual, enlarge photos by clicking on any one.
Extravagant is the prompt word today. My apologies for this poem.
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:
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.
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/worlds-colliding/ (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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Three new friends came home with me from the Ajijic Writers’ Conference and we spent the late afternoon and evening drinking wine, eating potstickers and asparagus and having an even greater feast of words. In the course of the evening’s conversation, someone asked why I had stayed for a year and a half in Ethiopia, and if you’ve read my earlier blog entries about my African experiences, you will know the tale I told.
They are all three successful and much-published writers and enthusiastically encouraged me to write a book about those years. Everyone had organizational ideas and it got me to thinking again. Could I do this? It would mean much research, and so I think if I were offered a year abroad that I would choose Ethiopia so I could revisit old locales and do research in the place that would be the setting for the book. Will I do it? We’ll see. (Write the book, I mean. I fear the research will be conducted at my desk at home.)
The Prompt: If you were asked to spend a year abroad, where would you choose?
Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt: Bone of Contention – Pick a contentious issue about which you care deeply — it could be the same-sex marriage debate, or just a disagreement you’re having with a friend. Write a post defending the opposite position, and then reflect on what it was like to do that.
This post is by no means meant to be directed towards all men. It is just that certain sort of man that it is meant to depict. (Who? Me? Hyperbolize?) To all the gentle men of the world, you will know at once that it is not you of whom I speak below.
A Modess Proposal
A woman should be shrouded, silent, pregnant, dumb.
All her private places cut off, sewed up, numb.
If only we could cauterize those portions of her brain
that let her reason for herself, we men would feel less pain.
Women are so handy as vessels for our sperm
that thinking of them sleeping with each other makes us squirm.
They have no need for credit, independence or a job
lest by gaining power, our power they might rob.
If women gained control, they’d likely choose to end all warring
and other games we men must play to make our lives less boring.
They might ban all blood sport starring dogs or bulls or men,
substituting yoga or other pastimes Zen.
We might find even television affected by their censure.
No slasher movies, torture, war or action and adventure.
They’d probably insist then that we give up every gun,
just for the sake of safety, removing all our fun.
Chick flicks would take the place of porno, football, boxing, soccer.
They’d tear out centerfolds and remove pinups from each locker.
No lap dances or girls on poles or writhing bumps or grinds.
They’d all be in university, developing their minds.
Better that they’re burqa’d, locked up in a cage
or on the floor, weeping, as we express our rage.
We men need our whipping posts and women serve so well.
It’s a little bit of heaven to put them through such hell.
You men who speak for women’s rights? You’re all a bunch of queers.
It would be much better if you’d stick up for your peers.
Go away to boot camp to learn to be a man—
to pillage, plunder, murder and rape women (if you can.)
These women with their placards are certainly excessive.
Their lobbying for equal pay is getting most obsessive.
The Bible says the man is boss and woman merely chattel.
Like other livestock meant to serve—like horses, sheep or cattle.
Best off if we could brand them and keep them in a pen
and when an urge needs satiating, go and let them in
to cook and scrub, tend children, and iron in each crease.
Then sell them off when they grow old and lazy and obese!
This world has gone all crazy with its call for women’s rights,
which causes men to beat their wives and get in barroom fights.
International warfare, terrorist actions and their likes
are all the fault of women—those ball-breakers and dykes.
Everything was better before this women’s lib,
when women alternated between kitchen and the crib.
If females took their proper place, shrouded to the eyes,
The world could be as God intended—a haven for the guys!