On Friday morning, I wrote a poem about where fury drives us and then, ironically, a few hours later I witnessed this incident of road rage:
On Friday morning, I wrote a poem about where fury drives us and then, ironically, a few hours later I witnessed this incident of road rage:
Life’s a library where we choose
book after book to read and muse
on the truth of each, or how it serves
to amuse us or to calm our nerves.
It starts with storybooks in our youth.
Cinderella’s lovely, her kin uncouth.
The pretty sister we all adore.
The others? Rotten to the core.
We judge by beauty evermore.
As teenagers, our thoughts are filled
with thoughts of hair, complexion, build—
the ways we rank and choose our friends.
For some, this method never ends.
We judge the world by what we see.
At court, the prettiest are set free.
Our dates determined by their cars,
Our peanut butters by their jars,
Our candidates are movie stars.
World is illusion, say the seers,
the thinkers and philosophers.
We cannot know reality
by going just by what we see.
Yet time and time again, we choose
our futures based upon our views.
The “curb appeal” that meets our eye
determines which house we will buy.
The crust is how we choose the pie.
Ted Bundy had a handsome face
that drew young ladies to his embrace.
An arm sling or perhaps a crutch
tricked them into his murderous clutch.
His handsomeness served to distract
till he’d performed his heinous act.
His cover perfect, his act most skilled,
he killed and killed and killed and killed—
lives ruined and ended as he willed.
So crack the book and look inside.
Talk before you choose your bride.
Drive the car before you buy.
Sip the wine and taste the pie.
See what’s inside if you are able.
Don’t go by face or box or label.
Though beauty dulled is less sublime,
scrub the tarnish from the dime.
Looking deeper takes more time.
Don’t choose the cover of a book.
Instead, take care to have a look.
One page nor twenty will not do.
You have the whole book left to view.
Avoid appearances and preening.
Look for truth and look for meaning.
George Eliot coined the adage first.
If for truth you have a thirst,
judging by the cover’s worst.
This poem was written 3 1/2 years ago, when I’d just started my blog and had very few readers, so I don’t think many reading my blog today have read it before. The prompt word today is clutch
When on some strange and lonely night
the choice is whether to take flight
or stand and face off for a fight,
I hope your soul turns still and white
and that you gather strength and might
to try to find that inner light
and conquer elements of fright.
Muster all your inner sight
and draw you to your furthest height.
All your inner truths recite.
Feel the solution’s tender bite,
your inner armies to incite.
Cast off the threat that holds you tight,
and lift off, soaring like a kite––
free once more for life’s delight.
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.
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.)
With my Open Studio to set up today, I don’t have time to wait for the Daily prompt, so instead I’m using a prompt suggested by Sam Rappaz. The Prompt: ‘Anagram poem‘. These poems are adopted from the word games that we find in newspapers. The rules are: End words must be derived from four or more letters in the title. Words which acquire four letters by the addition of “s” are not used. Only one form of a verb is used. (Thanks, Sam Rappaz. You can see her Anagram poem here.)
Just for the fun of it, I’m going to try to use the words Anagram Poem for the challenge, but instead of using those words as the title of my poem, I’m using a word derived from them:
All through our lives it lingers near.
It hovers close over her infant’s pram,
where his mother’s soothing words manage
to calm his cries of distressed rage.
Yet what he sows is left to her to reap.
His distress squelched may turn in her to anger
as at midnight, with the seventh remop
of the day, the angst supressed all day is allowed to range
unfettered, growing from a silent pang
to a depression best escaped from with a rope.
Who imagined this, that wild night after prom
when he first held her breast, a glowing pear,
and she, at last, met his questing grope
not with a “No” expressed clean off the page
of the pamphlet given by her gram;
but rather by a passion that rang,
on that one night, truer with every groan.
His muscled back, her throat, her golden mane.
Her naked thigh pressed to the gear.
For once, her lover given no cause to mope.
And for a day, a week, a month, that golden night remained a poem.
Until the time-worn ending added one stanza more.
Telling her grandma and her gramp.
That long journey up the nuptial ramp.
That fast trip from teenager to ma’am.
With lightning speed, from car seat to manger
and the clock watched, and his absence, and this overpowering midnight rage.
The Prompt: Think Again—Tell us about a time you made a false assumption about a person or a place — how did they prove you wrong?
The year was 1973. I was traveling with my friend Deirdre enroute from Australia, where I had emigrated when I graduated from college, to London. Or so I thought! We had set out from Sydney and traveled overland to Darwin, then flew to Timor. After a very adventurous few weeks, the story of which is too long to tell here, we traveled through Bali and other Indonesian islands, by boat up to Tanjung Pinang and to Singapore, to Sri Lanka, then to Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, Deirdre wanted to see Lalibela, an extremely isolated area of 12 stone underground churches carved in the 1100’s from the living rock. After more adventures traveling through the terrible drought areas via local buses and then by plane, we ended up in Lalibela. Another long and romantic story would detail how I met Andu Alem, one of the loves of my life, and how Diane and I became separated, then how I decided the relationship wouldn’t work and boarded a plane to go back to Addis Ababa to rejoin her. (If you haven’t already read that part of the story and want to read it before you continue, you can read it here. There is a link at the end of that story that will bring you back here.)
When I got on the plane, I was crying, knowing I was leaving someone I cared about but also knowing a relationship would never work as his father was very prejudiced against Americans and my father, who was very ill at the time, would probably not survive the news of an African son-in-law.
I didn’t notice the man who sat a few aisles behind me, watching every detail of my departure. I didn’t see him watching me sobbing into my last soggy Kleenex. I didn’t see him move to the seat across the aisle. I had no idea of what was about to happen, and how it would change my life. I was as ignorant of the next chapter of this story as you are—caught up in the sad ending of my love story, with no idea that there were much worse endings than unrequited love.
I watched Andu Alem below as the small plane lifted off the grass landing field.
For the next 15 minutes I sobbed as quietly as I could. I must add here that I am not a pretty crier. My eyes swell and turn red, as does my drippy nose. Eventually, I regained some composure and then noticed that the young African man who had spoken to me before was now sitting across the aisle from me. Since I was in a window seat, there was an empty seat between us. After a few moments, he asked if I was all right and if he could help me. I said no, that I’d rather just be alone, and he left me alone for a few more minutes.
Eventually, he started talking again and asking if there was something wrong. I said no, that I had just left a good friend and was very sad. He said that he was a student and asked if I would mind talking to him for a few minutes so he could practice his English. This was a common request as we traveled from country to country and as usual, I felt it was the least I could do; so we fell into a conversation and he eventually moved into the seat next to me.
He was extremely good-looking and looked a bit old for a student, but he showed me an identification that did in fact identify him as a student named Solomon Kidane. I knew that often students from the country could not afford to go to high school until they were in their twenties, so I was not too surprised that although he looked older that he was still in his last year of secondary school. He was pleasant and his English was good so we talked most of the way to Addis.
When we were about 15 minutes from landing, he asked a favor of me. He explained that he had been offered a scholarship to attend college in the U.S. but that his mother was unwilling to have him accept it as she feared racial prejudice in the U.S. and that she was afraid he would be mistreated or even killed. He asked if I would be willing to meet his mother to show her that all Americans were not prejudiced and unfriendly. I told him I was sorry, but that I really didn’t have the time as we were leaving the next day to fly to Khartoum.
He pleaded with me, saying that this was something that could change his entire life if I would just do this one kind act. He said that if I would come for dinner at his mother’s house, that I could meet his family. He would send a taxi for me and we would be with his mother and sisters and nieces and nephews the entire time. Then I could take a taxi home to the motel where I knew Deirdre was staying, awaiting my arrival.
Feeling selfish and the usual embarrassment that American travelers oftentimes experience regarding the imagined rudeness of many of their fellow countrymen, I eventually agreed. What could happen? And it could be a turning point in his life.
When we landed, Deirdre was at the airport waiting and we took a taxi home together. When I told her about my arrangement for that night and asked her to accompany me, she refused, saying it was just too dangerous. I didn’t know him. Anything could happen. With my usual small town naïveté, I insisted that I couldn’t be safer. We’d be in a taxi, then with his family, then I’d take a taxi alone back to the motel. What could go wrong? Little did I know.
At almost exactly the prescribed time that night, Solomon Kidane showed up at my door. Deirdre was still disapproving as we left and got into the waiting taxi. We rode for about 15 or 20 minutes to a part of town I’d never been in before. We drew up to a large gate and when he knocked, the sabanya (watchman) opened the gate and admitted us. Most homes in Addis were in enclaves around an open courtyard and the houses within the walls shared one guard.
Just inside the gate was a set of steps that led up to the second story of a house. We entered into one large room with doors leading off to the right. Inside were a number of women and children, one of whom was introduced to me as his mother. The other women and children were said to be his sisters and nieces and nephews. There were probably about 12 people in the room. He drew up low stools and produced beer. Three of his male friends had been invited and I realized rather quickly that they all looked familiar. They had all been on the plane!
We had a meal of injera and wat, all eating with our fingers from the same large plate, as was the local custom. Prior to and after the meal, one of his sisters leaned down in front of each of us with a pitcher of water and bowl with a bar of soap on its bottom. As she poured the water over our hands, we used the soap to lather up, then rinsed them in another stream of water and dried them with the towel hanging over her arm.
As the evening progressed, the men drank quite a bit of beer. I noticed that some of the women and children had left and told them it was perhaps time for me to leave. I’d talked to his mother and Solomon had said he thought she liked me and that it had helped, but he said to stay for just a little while more. By now, he especially was quite affected by drink.
One of his friends leaned forward to reach for a new beer and his suit coat fell open to reveal a shoulder holster and gun. I looked around and realized that they all had slight bulges under their suit jackets. I grew alarmed and seeing that I had noticed, he admitted that they were all security agents on Air Ethiopia. Earlier that year, the first air hijacking had occurred, of an Ethiopian Airlines plane flying from Kenya to Addis. Since then, they had had undercover security agents on all planes.
I asked him about his student ID and he showed me four different sets of identity papers. He said they used various “disguises” so no one knew they were on the plane and that they were all armed at all times. As members of the special forces, they were skilled in martial arts, combat techniques and gunmanship. During the progress of the conversation, their tongues grew loose and I realized that they were all Tigrian or Eritrean—two northern areas, formerly countries in their own right, that had been agitating for their freedom from Ethiopia ever since the British had unified the three countries at the time of their draw-out. I also grew to understand that they were in fact all double agents who had infiltrated the Ethiopian security forces but who were really sympathetic to the rebels.
At this point I looked up and realized there were no women left in the room! I got up and headed for the door, saying that I had to leave, but Solomon stood and gripped my arm, saying that he couldn’t let me leave. At this, the three other men left the room. I begged them to let me leave with them, but they said nothing—just left. When they opened the door, I screamed out, hoping someone else in the compound would hear me, but to no avail.
He was talking crazier and crazier. He pulled me into the bedroom and threw me on the bed. When I screamed and started to get up again, he hit me and started strangling me. I stopped struggling and said to him, “You know, if you hurt me, I am a very good friend of George McGovern, who comes from my state, and I will tell him and he will tell Haile Selassie, and he will punish you!”
He replied, “No you will not, for since I love you, I had to take you and afterwards I will have to kill you.”
At this point, I knew I had to use my brains as I was not accomplishing much with brawn, so I quieted down and let him kiss me and then said, “Okay. I can see that you love me, but this will be better if I comply, so I want to get ready for you. Would you please leave the room for a moment so I can get ready.”
Dear God, thank God! He left the room! Immediately, infused with the energy and strength of panic, I shoved a very heavy freestanding closet in front of the door, which didn’t lock, ran to the window and threw open the shutters. Again, thanks to a God whom I didn’t completely believe in, there was no glass! I could hear him beating at the door and the chest was moving, so I just jumped out the second story window, hurting my ankle and skinning my leg but not even noticing as I ran to the front gate screaming for help.
I beat on the gate, but the sabanya (watchman) did not leave his enclosure. No one in any of the small houses surrounding the courtyard came to my aid. I saw one old woman peek out of her door and I screamed, “Help me! Help me, please!” Of course, no one spoke English. She immediately slammed her door shut and pulled the bolt. At this point, Solomon came down the stairs and said, “You have lied to me, and now I will have to punish you!” He grabbed me by my hair, which was very long at the time, and pulled me back up the stairs. I continued screaming for help, but none came.
When we got to the top of the stairs, he pulled me into the house and slammed the door, which bounced on its frame and opened a crack behind us. He was still pulling me by the hair, but as we left the living room, my hand, grabbing out for anything to use as a weapon, struck a heavy ceramic lamp. I grabbed it and gaining a foothold, swung it at him, hitting him over the head and knocking him down. Running again for the front door, I saw it open and a tiny little lady I had never seen before grabbed my arm and pulled me down the stairs. At the gate, she called for the guard to open the gate. I ran out into the street and into the first door I found open…back through a large room and into a back bedroom, screaming “Help me, please help me!” A woman came and I kept saying “Police, Please call the police!”
At this point, the man I knew only as Solomon Kidane came into the room and charmingly tried to convince the crowd of women who had now gathered to let me go with him, but they folded around me and the police soon arrived. ( I eventually learned that it was a brothel that I’d run into and that the women who had helped me were all prostitutes, as were the women Kitane had hired to pose as his family in the house he had set up as his family house in the compound. All had been a ruse—mother, children and sisters!)
I told the police my story, although they had no English and I had very little Amharic, but eventually they put me in the back of a police car, and feeling safe again, I felt a huge surge of relief, at least until I turned around and saw that Solomon Kidane was in the back seat with me! He had convinced them that this was a lovers’ spat and that if he could just talk to me, that all would be well.
I screamed bloody murder, kicked and hit at the door and window glass, and eventually the police told him to leave the car and took me to the police station where I was examined by a doctor who took pictures of my scrapes and bruises. When they finally took me back to the motel, it was very late and of course, Deirdre got to say her “I told you so’s” which were well deserved.
The next morning I called the American Embassy and they sent a car for me. It turns out that this was not the first time an American woman had been abducted, but any of the others who had survived had always been so frightened that they had left Ethiopia as soon as possible without pressing charges. The embassy was very interested in bringing the matter to the court and said they would pay for legal counsel, translators, and provide protection for me if I would stay to testify; but I needed to understand that the Ethiopian legal procedure was very different from the American system and that most cases dragged on for years. Usually, a case was assigned a few hours a day once a week. Any prominent businessman just set aside a day or two a week to sit in court and wait for his part of any legal proceedings he was involved in to come up. Was I willing to stay in Ethiopia for a year, maybe two, to see that this man was brought to justice? I was fighting mad. I said yes!
Deirdre, of course, said I was crazy and that she was unwilling to spend any more time in Ethiopia. I could understand this, so I waved her off as she caught a plane for Khartoum. Another traveler we’d met, who was named Sue, got intrigued by my story and decided she would stick around to see what happened, so she spread her sleeping bag out on the floor of my motel room, as did Richard, another young backpacker we had met.
The embassy had said they’d find me another safer hotel, but in fact, the Organization of African Unity was meeting in Addis during that month, and so there was not a free room in town. In lieu of moving me, they provided an armed guard who stood outside the wall of my motel. When I left the compound, however, I was on my own. The police had not arrested the man, so he knew where I was and I knew he knew!
The first time I left the compound and crossed the street, his three friends were standing at the corner, as though waiting for the light to change. I was standing behind them before I realized who they were and when I tried to leave to go back to the motel, they formed a circle around me.
They said, “Do you know who is the father of the man you are accusing?” I said no, and they said, “He is a very important and a very dangerous man—the head of a revolutionary group that will one day change things in this country. If you do not drop the charges against our friend, he will have you killed, and if he cannot reach you, he will kill all your friends. No one will help you. You need to drop these charges.”
I pulled away and ran back into my compound. The next day I went with my attorney and we started making the rounds of government leaders, eventually making it up to the equivalent of the national Attorney General. He finally granted special dispensation for my case to be heard in one or two long sessions…or for as long as it would take…so I could be free to leave the country. A court date was set for the following week.
One very interesting twist to the story is that I was in sympathy with the cause that the men had mentioned and felt it justified, and so I never did reveal to police, my attorney, the embassy or the judges that these men were all 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 many frustrations and coincidences of the trial are another story, and since this part of the tale has already run on for too long, I will just say that the man responsible for my kidnapping was finally put into jail. Yes, his friends harassed me for a short time but no, no retaliatory measures were taken, at least at that time. I did not in fact leave Ethiopia for another year. During that time I taught in a local secondary school at a time when students were starting the revolution that the military would later take over, leading to the arrest of Haile Selassie and a series of revolutions that would lead to the eventual takeover of government by the group that Solomon Kidane claimed to be a member of.
My love story would resume—but would result in a tragic ending—one I will never be sure was not a result of the trial and arrest of Kidane. But that is another story in this tale of a traveler who moved through worlds not her own, never quite sure of the whole story, just traveling in that way that we all travel when we are young—centered on our own story, sure that it is our story alone and of no consequence to anyone but ourselves.
(If you haven’t already read that part of the story, you can read it here.)