Tag Archives: Ethiopia

My answers to Nosy Questions #2

  1. Tell us how you met your partner. Please be specific in telling your tale. He was reading his poetry at a coffee shop in Santa Monica, California. I was 38 years old and had never been married but when I saw him, I immediately recognized him as the man I’d been waiting for. I didn’t go up to the stage afterwards as there was a crush of other women there wanting to talk to him. I was going to the University of Iowa that summer for their writing program, but when I got there, I thought, “What am I doing here when the man I’m supposed to marry is back in CA?” So I walked out of the dean’s office without registering  and went back to CA. A few months later, he came to one of my poetry readings (I still hadn’t met him at this point) and I saw him in the audience and changed the poem I was going to read to read one that dealt with my breakup with my boyfriend so he’d know I was available. It worked. He came right up to me after the reading and a year later we were married. It was my first marriage and his third. I had no children. He’d had 10!!! Four were still small and I helped raise them for the 15 years before his death.
  2. What is your most romantic experience, again with details? I fell in love with a man in a very remote spot in Africa. After about a week, we decided it was not going to work and I left to work my way northwards and to eventually make it to England, where I would find work. Events, however, made it necessary for me to stay on and not to immediately leave for Khartoum, where I was to meet a travel companion. In a few weeks, the matter that had detained me taken care of, I was ready to leave on a plane the next day when a letter arrived for me in poste restante. It was from my lover. In it he said it was the biggest mistake of his life sending me away and that I should come back and live with him until we were driven out by the rainy season and that then we would travel to all the places we had discussed and eventually get married. There were no phones in the remote area where he worked and so I had no way to reach him, but I cancelled my flight to Khartoum and got a flight on a small plane to fly to where he was. When I climbed down the stairs of the plane, there he was… his arms full of flowers. Later, when I asked his friend how it was that he knew I was coming, he said, “Judy, he met the plane with his arms full of flowers every day for a week. The Seven Olives hotel gave us permission to cut flowers from their garden.”  That night we went to dinner at the Seven Olives, the only small hotel in town. To get to the dining room, we had to walk through their gardens. They were totally devoid of flowers!”
  3. What is the most extravagant purchase you’ve ever made, and why did you buy it? A Jaguar SJ6. I’d met a man, a poet, at the Santa Barbara Poetry Conference. He was a man who got along on a lot of charm and very little money, which did not both me, but when he came down to visit me in Huntington Beach, he very quickly  wore out his welcome. He was getting grouchy and demanding, so one day we drove to Newport Beach and on the way stopped by the Jaguar agency to test drive a car just for the fun of it. This was supposed to be a lark. I’m sure he thought I was as down on my luck he was as I was staying in my friend’s guest room and, having run away from my life in Wyoming and come to the coast by train with one suitcase, I seemed to have very few worldly goods. But unbeknownst to him, I had just sold my house in Wyoming and had few expenses as my old friend’s estranged husband was paying for half her very low house payment and I was just splitting the other half with her, so when the salesman started negotiating, I bought the car, writing out a check for the full amount. My “friend’s” jaw dropped and his face was still frozen in a flabbergasted expression as we drove home in it. On the way home, I asked him when he was heading back to Santa Barbara. He left that night and I never saw him again but I surely did enjoy that car.
  4. What is your favorite swear word or expression, and when are you most likely to use it? “Asshole!” I’ve used it a lot since Trump came into office. Prior to that, I’d reserved it purely for rude drivers!!
  5. What is your favorite kind of pie? With or without ice cream? Chocolate pie with vanilla ice cream.
  6. While we’re on the subject, what is your favorite ice cream, and where did you last eat it? Pistachio Gelato. I last had a double dip at the Laguna Mall food court in Ajijc a few weeks ago.
  7.  Who is your most unique friend and why? (May be someone from the past.) My most unique friend is Forgottenman. He has the cleverest and quickest mind of anyone I’ve ever met. He’s quirky and loyal and corrects my apostrophe errors on my blog. And I love his bald head.
  8. What is your most irritating habit? My sister would say it is humming under my breath.
  9. Who was your favorite teacher and why? I’ve written about him HERE.
  10. Do you like being alone and if so, what would you probably be doing? Yes. I would be blogging or doing art or playing spider solitaire or in the pool, throwing balls for Morrie to fetch.
  11. What is the most outlandish thing you’ve ever done? Rented a WWII tank carrier to sail around the coast of Portuguese Timor through waters inhabited by Bugis pirates.I was young and stupid. you can read about it HERE.
  12. What superstition do you always follow? I never walk under ladders and if a black cat crosses my path when I’m driving, I turn around and go in the opposite direction for a block or so before going around the block and continuing on my way. I do not dislike black cats. I think they are beautiful and I would have one as a pet., just as I would climb a ladder. I just don’t walk under them or cross the path of a black cat. I also throw spilled salt over my left shoulder. Always.
  13. What famous person or animal have you met? Tell us about the meeting. HERE is my story about meeting John Wayne.


These are my answers to my own question Challenge, Nosy Questions.

Ta Da!!! Finished. Now you tell me your stories!!!!!

Work in Progress

 ForgottenMan gave me permission instructed me gave me his blessing said it might be a good idea … to inform you about the project I’m working on. He added this photo of me in Ethiopia in 1973. The book I’m writing is about this period during which the Ethiopian Marxist revolution was brewing. My friend Leslie offered to come over for a three day intensive where we would both work only on our books. It worked so well that we’re doing it again for four days, starting tomorrow. Here are a few shots of last week’s session. I’ll see you on Monday! (Click on first photo to enlarge all and read captions.)


Coffee with No Ceremony

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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.

Footnote to the Revolution

Footnote to the Revolution

The red clay from the cane field in your hair,
leaves pressed into my neck from lying in the tall stalks,
we heard in the trees
the movements of the shepherd
who had watched.
Later, at the Filowaha baths,
we washed ourselves from each other
and slept in a room
by the eucalyptus.
I would have wanted you more in that room
if I’d known about the bullet
already starting its trajectory through the minds
of men spending youth fresher than ours
in revolution.
I remember watching your shave
in the lobby barber shop,
your face mummied by the steaming towels.
I tasted bay rum afterwards
as we shared cappuccino.
Parked at the roadside near enough to hear our parting,
I imagine they drank katikala,
its bite sealing brotherhood
your blood would buy in the street
outside the Filowaha baths.





In 1973-74, I journeyed to and lived in Ethiopia. It was not my original intention to do any more than visit and pass through, but fate had a different plan in mind. I was first detained by violence, then by love. The Filowaha baths in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were probably the equivalent of the “No Tell Motels” in Mexico, but for Andy and me, they were a place to be alone, to soak in hot water together and to make love with no listening ears. I guess that is what they were to everyone who visited, but there was nothing illicit in our relationship. We were both single and in what at the beginning we thought was a committed relationship that would end in marriage. His family had accepted this. My parents, thousands of miles away, had long ago given me the message that they did not want to know anything that, as my mother had stated, “would make them feel bad.” My sister knew, but they never did.

This poem actually chronicles two different visits to the Filowaha baths–one near the beginning of our relationship and the other our last night before I departed to fly back to the United States. On this second visit, we both knew we would probably never see each other again. Once again, we had figured out that the relationship wasn’t going to work, and our own feelings were complicated by the revolution that was already raging around us. We had both just spent a month in the hospital–Andu Alem recovering from the bullet that had gone all the way through his body as he defended me from a man whose intention was to kill me. Not able to return to my house, I had stayed in the hospital with him so we could both be guarded by his father’s soldiers.

Years later, when I made my first assemblage boxes, I made this music box that told the story I’d already told in the poem years before. The song it plays is “The Way We Were.” I’m now trying to tell the story a third time in a book. Now that I know the true ending to our story, I might have changed the poem, but I leave it as I once thought it was. There are many truths in our lives, according to which vantage point we are telling them from.  This story is as true as the very different story I will eventually tell, if I have the courage to face up to it. Please enlarge the photos go see the details which should be self-explanatory. The hand I sculpted out of clay. I photographed the assemblage box on the table where I had been rereading letters I’d written home from Ethiopia as well as letters Andu Alem and other friends living in Ethiopia had written me once I returned to the states.

Swallowing Truth

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

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

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

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

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

Swallowing Truth

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

Which path of memory to follow?

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

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

could not resist your charm and looks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The prompt word today is swallow.


If you’d like to read how I shocked every souk owner on my block when I lived in Ethiopia in 1973/74, read this old post from three years ago:

The prompt today is shock.

Happy Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Winsome and Then Some

Most of you probably haven’t read the story of the beginning of my life in Ethiopia, but since my search for today’s prompt word presented it as one of the few posts prompted by the word “winsome,” and because I’ll be busy all day packing for the beach before my house sitters get here, I’m linking to it again today.  Here is the beginning.  If you’d like to read all of it, click on the link at the end:

Romance Underground

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.

NaPoWriMo2017, Day 3: Reliquary

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On Sunday morning under orange bougainvillea,
Your picture spills from an old album.
You were on a verandah under purple bougainvillea,
drinking the hot noon from your coffee cup
as I drank passion fruit and watched Lake Tana birth the Nile.

Later, kneeling by the river, I made my hand into a cup,

but you called out that slow death swam the blood
of those who touched the river,
while behind you on harsh branches,
black birds barked stark music.

Now, on Sunday morning under orange bougainvillea,
half a world and half a life away,
 I restore you to your proper place, remembering how,
when they laid you down to dream beneath the purple bougainvillea,
it was passionfruit’s sweet poison that flavored my life.


Please also see this elegy: https://judydykstrabrown.com/2016/10/11/look-up-poem-for-a-good-good-girl/

The NaPoWriMo prompt today was to write an elegy.