My best friend is one of the smartest people I know. The reason I am in Addis Ababa is because she has recently moved here to work for UNECA on a joint project with the UN and the African Union. Oh and by the way, she is also about to publish her second book. Point being: she’s smart. Yet somehow she seemed to have some sort of temporary brain damage that lead us into the following situation.
The sign on the street read “Hilary Massage”, the store front looked like it was run out of a house, but that isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm here in Addis Ababa. –I am sure by now you have some sort of idea where this is going- We enter the living room/waiting room and red flags are popping up all over. The female staff is all scantily clad, and the beauty products on the desk are covered in dust as if no one has, or probably ever will, buy them. A woman hands my friend a flyer, which was professionally made with pictures of white women enjoying warm stone massages on it –internet pictures, clearly not pictures taken in this dump- It lists: Swedish Massage, Tai Massage, Sport Oil Massage, Hot Stone, Aroma Therapy, Morocco Bath, Steam Bath, Sauna Bath… then it says in the corner of the flyer “24hr” -major red flag- This place doesn’t look like it could provide any sort of “bath,” nor would you want one.
Putting two and two together I say to the women, who are looking at us expectantly, “We will come back, another time.” I am ready to turn and leave when my friend says “Oh you don’t want a massage now? I love Tai Massage.” I am wondering if her post-night out headache has impaired her judgment, but she is usually just so damn smart I start to wonder if I am just being unreasonable –lesson learned-
We head into the back part of the house, which has no lights and multiple rooms, one being a very crusty bathroom –think bathrooms in horror films where girls get chained to the sink and wait in fear to be chopped up in the tub- the women direct us into two separate rooms, of which both have filthy mattresses on the floor and crusty, matted faux-fur pillows. Panic sets in. I run to the closed-door of my friend’s room and bang on it feverishly. She opens the door, and with her prospective “masseuse” standing next to her, looks at me with an expression of overwhelmed confusion. “We need to leave,” I plead, she looks around and says, “yah, Je ne suis pas sure que cet endroit est- ” “No, we need to go.” I cut her off. As we turn the woman says, “What wrong? Maybe you want man?” –yeah, we NEED to go- “Another time! We will come back!” I say hastily as I almost jog out of the place. I barely take a breath out the door as I am met with a very abrupt, angry grunt from a goat, startling me nearly to cardiac arrest – just another reason why this would haven’t been an ideal place to receive a massage- I turn around waiting with my teeth clenched for my friend to gather herself and come out of the brothel.
“I think that was a prostitute place….” “Um yeah you think?” We both laugh loudly gasping for breath, while the working girls seem to take almost an equal amount of pleasure watching us squirm. We giggle and revel in the ridiculousness of it all –lovely moments to share with our grandkids one day-
As I have recently been pretty ill –my stomach acid is trying to eat my insides, casual- my bestie and I have found that a simple phrase in French can answer any question or proposition you may encounter; Je suis malade –I am sick- This sentence can work for many questions such as, “Wanna come to this party that a friend of a friend is throwing tonight?” –je suis malade-
In addition you can use multiple tenses of this phrase such as, “J’étais malade” –I was sick- which can be used in questions like ,“Why weren’t you in class last Friday evening?” -J’étais malade- Or for those of you who live in the real world, “Why did you leave work immediately after lunch?” –J’étais malade-
But the best use of this phrase by far is in the future tense, “Je serai malade” –I will be sick- “I know this guy who I think would be perfect for you. I told him all about you and he is super interested. You should totally go out with him this weekend, maybe it will turn into something, who knows.” –Je serai malade-
And if you feel like being a bit more polite you can add, “Je suis desolé” –I’m sorry- to the front of this magical phrase –but lets be honest, you’re not sorry-
My time in Addis Ababa has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Every single damn day has been humbling –and not in an easy introspective way- The Alliance Éthio-Français may be my least favorite thing in Ethiopia –besides diarrhea- I love speaking French, and at one point was great at it, but as time passed in the States my French skills became archived I some unknown chasm of my brain.
While I have lost much of my French skills, -which is humbling enough- it doesn’t help that the secretary of the AÉF speaks French with a thick Ethiopian accent, making it pretty much impossible for anyone to understand, let alone register for classes. The stress of taking a French placement exam now rivals the moment in which I nearly shit myself last weekend while hiking with friends, and had to quickly duck into a bush –lovely moments brought to you by Ethiopia-
In addition to struggling with French -and embarrassing gastrointestinal mishaps- the language barrier can allow you to feel left out and confused. Being American I often find myself in the position of power in situations in which there is a language barrier –not this time- While most people in Addis speak some bit of English, that doesn’t mean that things don’t get lost in translation daily. I find myself the odd man out as I sit silently while people around me carry on in Amharic.
And then there is this whole applying to jobs and trying to move to Africa thing I am doing. That’s been a doozy. Nothing makes you feel less qualified than editing your CV; removing all the “awesome” jobs I worked in college from my “employment history” is bleak -the dining hall, some pizza place, Abercrombie & Fitch…no, I do not want to be a member of the “A&F club”-
But ultimately, all my “woe is me’s” pale in comparison to the poverty. This is the most humbling of all. Walking down the street I am violently jarred form my usual neuroticisms –I wish I felt more confident in using the Amharic words I’ve learned, why can’t I remember anything? Why can’t I remember French?!?- People grab at my arms on my way home from dinner, asking for the take-out food I planned on eating for lunch the following day. If I’m holding a water bottle, children walk up to me holding out their hands, saying “wah-ter, miss. Peas, wah-ter.” It is impossible to give to all of them, but which one do you give to? –The nagging guilt of privilege-
Everything is insignificant.
I watch as she walks past me, holding a large umbrella, blocking her unnaturally bleached skin from the sun. I look down I see my own skin, dyed with self-tanner. Why do we do this to our selves? We seem to all be striving for some bronze skinned middle ground. Do we all really just want to be mixed raced? White people all around the world go to wild lengths, risking skin cancer to be tanner, and brown people of all races around the world face the same risks trying to be lighter.
My first thought was that this has to be some skin-deep bullshit. But then my thoughts kept spiraling – as they always do – This has got to be biological. Studies show that women are more attracted to men who have more varying genes. The more different genes they have the better; this is how we can evolve to better beings. It’s Darwinism. So is it so far off to think that we find people who have more varying genes to be more attractive?
But then I am left thinking of Donald Trumps stupid orange face- like I’ve said, orange is alright, but everything in moderation for fucks sake- How can white people be so damn racist when they are actively trying to darken their skin? –Wtf is that?!- That really is some skin-deep bullshit. My thoughts are as follows: –these are my opinions… opinions, meaning not fact…
Racism is a social construct and what we find attractive is biological. Attraction to other races is a scary thought for a lot of people. It’s human instinct to fear the unknown, but then to be attracted to the “scary” unknown can cause people villainize their temptations, and in a frenzy of fear, deny their feelings. This fear and denial can be so deep that it is passed down for generations. This explanation doesn’t mean its right- it’s ignorant.
But what these ignorant people fail to see is that their ignorance makes it even sexier. Mixed raced couples and mixed raced people are not just beautiful from a biological standpoint; they’re a of acceptance and love, and it is just so damn sexy.
But what these ignorant people fail to see is that their ignorance makes it even sexier. Mixed raced couples and mixed raced people are not just beautiful from a biological standpoint; they’re a visualization of acceptance and love, and it is just so damn sexy.
It is a pervasive theme in Addis. It’s usually a point of contention, but as with most things, there are exceptions –bidet like hoses attached to the toilets are nice. Water comes in many forms here, but usually in unconventional lakes. Water comes from the sky and fills every pothole in the unpaved roads we take to get to the grocery store. They become so large that it is necessary to weave between the small patches of earth that line them, which at times are only inches wide. So we leap over these mini-lakes, and try to weasel our way around the massive ones that take over the entire width of the street; watching taxi cabs drive straight through, submerging their front tires, and then back. Water also comes from the sky and confuses us, making us think it will be a balmy day –better wear jeans, definitely a sweater, and some running shoes- only to dry up on the second half of our journey, leaving us over heated and annoyed.
Water smells disgusting as it pools onto the floor of our bathroom EVERY DAMN TIME we take a shower- even when we have the curtain pulled completely. The small –only small in comparison to the pothole-lakes, but in actuality, it’s a pretty big pool- pool on the tiled floor does not want to be swept into either of the two drains located on either side of the bathroom. No matter how much we try to push it towards them with the smelly, perpetually soaked, mildewed mop that lives in the corner. By the end of the day the pool shrinks down to a small puddle, only to be refilled as we shower the next morning.
You don’t want to drink the water from the tap; according to travel bloggers online it will give you the shits’. This means you have to buy loads of water bottles. Even when it rains, the air is generally drier in Addis, and the elevation seems to leave you perpetually thirsty. In efforts to avoid using so many plastic water bottles, -we are from Seattle, and thus have environmental guilt- my best friend and I have bought an electric water boiler and a pitcher so that we can boil the water to decontaminate it, and then keep it in the fridge. This was a fine idea –or so I think, the jury’s out on this one… the shits’ may still be on the table- except for the fact that we bought a plastic water pitcher… rooky mistake. The water then tasted STRONGLY of plastic. We returned to the store today and bought a glass pitcher. The water tastes better than the plastic-water, but is still not nearly as tasty as the 2 Liter bottles of “BLU: Natural Mineral Water” that we bought today. My new strategy is buy one 2 Liter bottle a day, and then suffer through the evening with icky fridge water. It seems to be working alright…again, the jury is still out on this one.