Tag Archives: Dangerous Decisions

Memories Decoded

IMG_9013This square actually contains two stories, both of which have been requested. I’ll tell the story of the other one tomorrow.

When I published the photo of my memory box, I promised to tell the story of any square in it that someone requested I tell. Two people have requested I tell the story of this one, so I’ll tell it first. If you’ve requested other stories, they will be coming up in the near future, one a day.

The year was 1966 and Christmas was fast approaching. That year, my sophomore year at the University of Wyoming, my folks had let me bring to college the little red Ford Galaxie that my dad traded a combine, two horses and a bit of cash for my junior year in high school. The way my sister and I learned my dad was buying us a car was that he told us to get in his pickup, we were going to White River. What for? A surprise. When we got almost to White River, 23 miles away, he pulled off the road into a lot filled with a number of machines, cars and farm equipment and pulled up to a little red Galaxie, told us to get out of the car and tossed us the keys. My sister and I soon got the message that this was our car. I was 16 and had just gotten my driver’s license. My sister Patti was 20. We got in the car, stared at the stick shift and revealed to my dad that neither of us knew how to drive a stick shift. Well, he guessed we’d learn on the way home, he said, and took off in his pickup. He was right, we learned on the way home.

The thing about stories is that every story has so many stories attached to it and so it is with this one. At any rate, with no further digressions. Since I was one of the few girls in the sorority house who had a car and since I was always up for adventure, shortly before Thanksgiving, I decided I would take friends up to the Snowy Mountains to cut a Christmas tree for the Chi Omega house where I lived. With a bit of squeezing, the back seat could accommodate four; the front seat, with its gear stick on the floor, could accommodate two. So, six of us piled into my car in the early afternoon, sure that we could get to the Snowy Range, cut a tree and be back by our ten-o’clock curfew that night. Included in the group were three of my best friends since my freshman year and two new pledges, both from California.

Our troubles didn’t actually start until we had arrived in the mountains. Because the dirt road was very narrow and steep, there was really no place to pull off, so all I could do was to pull as far over to the side as possible and hope no traffic came along. We knew the chances were remote, as it was a timbering road meant for the trucks that went back and forth to the lumber camp at the top of the mountain, the road being too small and rough for regular traffic. We set off scouting out a tree and soon found one the right size and proceeded to chop it down, not too skillfully, I might add. It had started to snow as we set out from the car but we were so intent on finding and chopping down the tree that we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the snow was falling more and more heavily.

It was as we were dragging the tree back to the car that we heard the loud beeping of a horn, which in the muffled air of what was now a snow storm sounded more like a fog horn than a car horn. As the other 5 dealt with the tree, I ran out to the road to discover a huge lumber truck pulled up behind the car. My friends wrestled the tree into the trunk and I tied the lid down with the top few feet of the tree sticking out behind the trunk. We piled into the car and since I could not get past the truck to head back down the mountain, I was forced to drive further up the mountain—up the deep ruts of the frozen dirt road that were quickly filling up with snow, the lumber truck close on my heels, now and then sounding its horn if I slowed down too much.

As the snowfall got heavier and heavier, I found it harder and harder to see, the windshield wipers barely keeping up with the accumulating slush at their corners as well as the newly fallen snow. It seemed like an eternity as we drove farther and farther up the mountain. On one side was a sheer drop-off. On the other side, a steep mountain bank and trees. The mood was tense in the car as we searched each side for a possible place where we could turn around to go back down the mountain. As I type this, I can again feel the tension—a feeling of fullness in my chest—a panicked sensation of something gathering and swelling in my throat. It was panic, a growing fear that there was no way we were going to get back down that road, even if we were able to reach the lumber camp.

“I think we’re going to be spending the night at the lumber camp,” I remember thinking—and perhaps saying. The one good thing about our situation was that truck behind us, which could help us if we got stuck and which could also lead us to shelter in the lumber camp. But when we finally did get to the top of the mountain and a dirt space large enough to turn the car around, whoever was driving the lumber truck just parked the rig, jumped out and headed down through the trees. Not knowing where he was going or how to find the camp, we turned the car around and headed back down the mountain.

By then it was so dark and snowing so hard that the only way we could see to stay on the road was to open all the windows and hang our heads out, shining flashlights out of each window to see where the edge of the road was. We drove slowly for what seemed like hours, the tires sliding on the icy road until finally, the car went into a skid and started to go over the side of road. Knowing that it was a sheer drop off on the side we were skidding toward, I pumped the brakes, then as it seemed sure we were going to plunge off the side, I jammed down on the brakes and pulled the emergency brake as well. As the car went over the edge, however, the banked snow and frozen dirt stopped us. With the two passenger-side wheels hanging out into the air and the rear driver’s side wheel barely making contact, the only thing keeping us from going down the side of the cliff was the wheel and undercarriage under me. I knew it was necessary to get as much weight as possible out of the other side of the car, and yelled at the passengers in the back seat to slide as far over to my side as possible and to jump out of the back window–the side nearest the road. Then I told the person in front with me to climb into the back seat and to exit by the same means. As she did, I opened the glove box and emptied its contents into my purse. A package of chewing gum, five packets of ketchup, an extra flashlight, matches, a lighter–I don’t remember what else–but I knew we might have to survive for awhile on whatever was there. When all of my friends were out of the car, I opened my door and jumped out into the snow, fearing that without my weight the car would go on over the side.

It didn’t, but we knew it was not safe to stay in the car as it could go over at any minute. But what to do? We were all dressed warmly except for one girl from California, who had no socks and no gloves. I had earlier taken off mine and given them to her when they had gotten out of the car to push at one point. We were not equipped to survive in a mountain snowstorm, however, and I knew we needed to find shelter. In spite of the fact that we had noticed no cabins on our way up the mountain, finding one would be our only hope of survival. We had, as I recall, four flashlights, and since it seemed important to stay in contact with the car, I devised a system whereby I would stand as far from the car as I could so I could still see the car and shine a flashlight in front of me. The others would walk together shining one of the three remaining flashlights in front of them, fanning the area around them looking for shelter. They would walk as far as they could so long as they could still see my flashlight. When they had walked the furthest possible still seeing my light, one person would stand and turn on her flashlight, fanning the surroundings as they had before. If they saw nothing, that person would again shine the flashlight in a forward direction into the woods parallel to the road and the other three would walk forward together, fanning their flashlights to look for a cabin for so long as they could see the light being held by the second person. When they got to the furthest spot that they could see her light, one more would stop and shine her light for the remaining two. In this way, it would always be possible to find their way back to the car. And luckily, when they were almost to the furthest place where they could still make out the third light, they discovered a cabin, tightly boarded up for the winter. They blinked their flashlight twice, the girl above them turned and blinked her light at the one closest to me, who turned and blinked her flashlight at me and I blinked my light twice to let them know I had seen them, then grabbed the axe, thinking we might need to chop some firewood, and headed down the mountain toward lights number two, three and four!

Little did I know that I’d be using the ax to chop down the door to the cabin, which was nailed tightly shut, as were all the window shutters—a precaution against bears! Luckily we hadn’t considered the possibility of bears. The cabin was as cold as the outside air, however, and we knew we needed to get a fire started as soon as possible. The prospect of cutting down a tree and getting wet wood to burn did not appeal to us. Luckily, there were wooden chairs which we chopped up—but what to use to start the fire? Finally, we stripped insulation from the walls to stuff under the pieces of the chair and lit a fire in the cookstove. What we had not taken into account, however, was that the owners had put a coffee can over the smokestack before closing up for the winter to keep it free of critters and snow, so the cabin quickly filled with smoke.

As a result, we could just spend a few minutes in the cabin before going outside to breathe the clear air, and this was how we spent our time for I know not how many hours, taking turns standing outside to watch for any possible light coming up the road. Could there possibly be another lumber truck? Who else would be out on a night like this in such a remote spot? It was past midnight when one of the girls came running into the cabin to say she had seen a light. We all ran out, waving our flashlights as a pair of headlights made its way up the mountain. As the rangers’ four wheel drive vehicle pulled up on the road above us, we all went running up the hill, screaming, waving our arms as three men piled out of their vehicle.

Long story short, they were park rangers, who winched our car out from its precarious position, put out the fire in the cabin and wedged the door shut, then loaded three of us into the park rangers’ vehicle and the other four into my car, insisting that one of them would drive my car. We made our way down the mountain to the entrance of the park, at which point we were met by highway patrol cars. Those of us in the park rangers’ vehicle were transferred to a highway patrol car. “I can drive my car, now,” I protested, but a highway patrolman slid into the driver’s seat and we proceeded to the Laramie city limits.

At that point, we were transferred to a city police car for a brief ride to the University of Wyoming campus, where the campus cops assumed responsibility for us, driving us up to our sorority house where every light in the house was blazing and every girl in the house was waiting inside the entrance to the house, along with our house mother. By then it was 3 in the morning and they had been waiting up for us all night. When we hadn’t shown up for curfew, friends had admitted that we’d gone up to the Snowies to cut down a Christmas tree. Our house mother had called the dean, who had called the police who had called park rangers. Search parties had been sent out both from the University of Wyoming and the park headquarters. It had been 1 in the morning when they had received word we’d been found, but by then the story had been picked up by A.P. and U.P.I. and broadcast nationwide.

The next morning, we did not go to class, but slept in. We’d be seeing the Dean of Women in the early afternoon to face the music. When I woke up the next morning, the phones had already starting ringing—the press, wanting to hear the story first hand. Unfortunately, the person who answered the phone calls was Kathy Mulcare, the California girl who was the one I’d loaned my gloves and socks and boots to. Were we warmly dressed? The reported asked, “Yes, everyone but Judy Dykstra from Murdo, South Dakota. She was in low-cut shoes with no gloves!” And that was how the story went out nationwide.

When I called my parents the next morning, wondering how I was going to break the news, I said, “Hi, Mom. Guess what?” She said, “You mean how you were stranded in the mountains while cutting a Christmas tree last night?” My heart sank. It turns out that they had been up all night listening to the radio, knowing only that six girls from the U. of Wyoming were missing in the mountains after going up to cut a Christmas tree. No names had been given, but my mother said, “Ben, I just know one of them is Judy!” My dad said “Don’t be ridiculous. There are thousands of girls in the University–what are the odds that one would be Judy?” But he, too, waited up until they learned they had been found. No names, though, until I had been the one to tell them that alas, it was their daughter.

Yes, we were campused for the next semester. In addition, once the names had been announced, my dad came in for a lot of ribbing from his coffee buddies in Mack’s Cafe. “Can’t you afford to buy that daughter of yours boots and socks and gloves, Ben?” they teased. My mother advised that I not come home for Thanksgiving that year. “If you do, your Dad is going to take your car away.” And that is how I came to spend Thanksgiving in Thermopolis, Wyoming, with two of my friends who had shared the great Christmas Tree Adventure, and yes, there was another big adventure awaiting us in Thermopolis. But that is a story for another time and place and this is the story for that particular square in my memory box. Why the elephant and dog? That, too, is another story entirely.

Postscript: The strange thing was, no one ever asked us to pay for the damage to the cabin, and, although the news story ended with the quote “the little Christmas tree they had risked so much to get was left behind in the mountain blizzard,” in fact, they didn’t confiscate it. Nor did they ask if we had a permit to cut it, which we didn’t.

Although the original post was made in June, and I started this post then, I evidently got distracted. Forgottenman just found it in my drafts. So here it is, three months late. You can see the entire memory box HERE.

More on 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: 


 Friday we were in Tonala and about to cross (walking) at an intersection when we heard a horn blaring. One car honked its horn and then zipped around the car in front of it, cutting it off, and crossed the road in front of us. Then the car it had passed started blaring its horn and sped after it. The car in front parked in the middle of the street, blocking the other car, which honked at it to move. The woman in the front car came barreling out of her car, yelling, ran back to the car behind her, reached through the window and slapped the driver in the face. This caused the driver’s husband to come barreling out of his car and the husband of the car in front to come running to defend his wife. Then the driver of the rear car exited, but unfortunately forgot to turn off her car or set her hand brake and the rear car went crashing into the front car! When we drove back by 5 minutes later there were two police cars, an ambulance and what looked like a swat team handling the matter. Talk about road rage!!! (We knew the ambulance was unwarranted unless the battle escalated after we left.)



Beauty’s Clutch.


Beauty’s Clutch

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

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.  https://oromianeconomist.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/the-cause-of-ethiopias-recurrent-famine-is-not-drought-it-is-authoritarianism/      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.

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.)

Anger (Anagram Poem)

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.


Naïve in Africa

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?

Naïve in Africa

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.)