during my miserable christmas busride i was informed by tony, via text, about two places of note in addis.
the first was mr martin’s cozy place (relevant later), which is either a welcoming name for a cheap hotel in ethiopia, or a probable name for a high school chemistry teacher’s rapist van.
the second was the beer garden hotel.
my reaction to this was, you can live at the beer garden?!
the next day, while failing to locate the togolaise embassy, i ran into dan, the only other PCV in town, and we decided we needed to experience this beer “garden” and its 3 liter tower of pilsner. the waitress ducked under the yellow striped flap of the garden tent with the most impressive feat of beer drinking apparati since the funnel met the hose and it was at this moment that we decided to espouse the golden rule and invite over the scraggly pair of strange ferenji sitting at the picnic table across from ours.
it was but moments later that we were slowly but intensely introduced to the fourth kind of semi-permanent ferenji: the “i had nothing better to do and black chicks are hot. hey, that reminds me of a story about selling oxycontin in tampa, florida” ferenji (also known as the farawnjee).
countless stories about selling oxycontin in tampa, florida and exponentially more mispronounced amharic words later, we decided these two guys were partially hilarious, mostly offensive, and completely obnoxious.
fortunately the evening wasn’t a total bust, because the night had even more obnoxious people in store for me… sorry, my lips are sealed, and i’ve got a plane to catch in the morning…
while the rest of the jimma loop spent the holidays family style in the south loop, i had bigger fish to fry, and i had to get to addis by monday.
i decided to take it leisurely, and spent a day in metu with jessica where she introduced me to the glory that is stripper champagne (heretofore referred to as st george’s beer and sprite, or the devil’s sprice. the deliciousness of which proved karin’s theory that everything is worth trying twice, not once. the first time can be too shocking to form an educated opinion).
i then spent christmas eve in jimma with the loop’s VSOs where i wondered…
how on earth did i spend an entire day in a foreign country with a british girl, an aussie girl, and an irish girl, and not get involved in any impressive feats of intoxication, breaking and entering, public tomfoolery (if you will), enough vulgar language to make a sailor blush, or at least recreate a benny hill sketch (the shrimp landed right in her cleavage… classic!)?
have i lost my edge?
i spent the remainder of the night doubled up in the fetal position with food poisoning (thanks for the stocking stuffer, sports café), and the next day on a high speed bus over 8 hours of very windy road trying not to crap my pants or resort to puking in my backpack.
by the grace of santa clause i at least made it to a hotel room in addis before i “officially joined the peace corps”.
out here on the loop two kinds of semi-permanent ferenji have been previously identified: peace corps, and VSO (the british version of PC, which accepts volunteers from all over the world).
a third, more elusive species does exist, however.
so far the missionaries i’ve encountered aren’t so bad.
there’s the romanians. hiding at the top of the hill in masha, it took months to discover these docile creatures, but soon we realized how laid back you’ve got to be to celebrate the dissolution of the USSR by moving to the jungles of ethiopia for an undisclosed amount of time, and live in a neighborhood where your biggest concern is the monkeys who steal your mangos.
there’s the americans. hiding in plain sight, i never suspected ellie was so pious, and never would have. she has spent a large portion of her life on the african continent, and when intoxicated tends to play with fire.
then there’s the russians.
the most recent discovery of the cool missionaries. my encounter with the russians went thusly:
ellie suggested that we all come along with her to the russians’ house because they were going to be doing some international travel and she wanted to say goodbye. over tea and muffins mark says something along the lines of “wow, dave. your hair looks decent considering it was chelsea’s first time, but i wouldn’t go out in public like that. that was a bold choice”.
moments later i’m sitting in an improvised barber’s chair while a russian missionary cum semiprofessional hairstylist cleans me up, all the while setting me up for golden cold war jokes, and when i made those jokes, she looked at me deadpan, scissors in hand, like “reelly? vile i’m holding a wery sharp obyect you make zis joke?” then, when my face fell to that serious, “faux pas”, look, she laughed and laughed and laughed…
i had to admit, this whole missionary thing, while not my bag, isn’t so bad after all.
now, i’ll ask you one last time…
ver is zee microfeelm?!
* * * *
stay tuned for our next episode:
how naughty do you have to be to get food poisoning for christmas?
reading assignment: fahrenheit 451 : ray bradbury
a book about a world where books are outlawed, TV is life, and outlaws exist as walking, talking texts awaiting the return of the cultured human.
no matter how, when stateside, one attempts to avoid something like the plague itself, once it becomes a complete impossibility torn from your control to decide for or against that thing, you have to have it.
with peace corps it tends to happen with junk food, mass media, and major holidays.
of course some people take precautions against the ill effects of the curse by bringing provisions that will sate the cravings as needed…
that said, on with the story.
every once in a while, you just gotta get the hell out of town.
between the power outages, the new telecom network “schedule” (all telecom was disabled between 10pm and 7am), and our landlord’s obnoxious family, alex and i had reached that point.
now, i knew mark down in mizan tefari, and alex knew ellie, and in the mean time, neither of us really knew the other, but to simply know of them.
and so it was decided we would spend a long weekend rectifying that situation.
the rugged road to mizan stops in one town: tepi, an infamous bus stop town that gets nothing but a bad reputation from ferenji, and the rutted road to tepi takes the term “pain in the ass” quite literally.
at one point i had bounced off my seat and across the aisle to replace the woman who was now sitting on the lap of the passenger next to her, and alex’s buttcheeks were hanging on for dear life to the edge of the seat i once occupied.
that’ll learn ya to take the comfy looking seat at the back of the bus.
the “it’s not so bad” factor creeps in just outside of tepi when you see the first stretch of manicured lawn since arriving in ethiopia, complete with paved walkways on either side, olde tyme street lamps, and people enjoying the simple pleasures those things provide.
then the tepi bus station hits you like a fleet of soot spewing… busses.
once off the bus, one must deal with the fact that many a bus, beggar, and “independent contractor” congests the tepi bus station, and none of them are gonna help you get where you’re going.
they will, however, sell you a ticket for a bus that doesn’t exist, or perhaps a packet of “divas of disney channel” stickers to bedazzle the trapper keeper you bought to impress the captain of the football team next semester.
the best bet out of tepi seems to be hitchhik—i mean, partaking in the ride offered by a vehicularly equipped non-profit organization.
next stop, mizan!
over thanksgiving in jimma mark did his best to try and explain just what the hell mizan tefari is.
it was a glorious failure.
i couldn’t tell from one detail to the next whether mizan was better than jimma or worse than masha.
but this weekend i finally figured it out.
mizan is a mid-sized ruralish town that simply got it right.
a handful of immaculately cobbled roads, a smattering of nice hotels and restaurants, a ferenji grocery here and there, and stores that offer just about anything a person could need or want, and a few things they don’t. aside from this, a mizan isn’t much more than a masha. while their power goes out regularly, it rarely goes out long enough that you have to hold a candle up to the hash marks you’ve scratched in the wall to count the days. it’s the water in mizan that leaves you high and dry for weeks at a time. network is similarly unreliable with the comical peccadillo that while phones are down, internet can be up, and while mark could be in the living room begging for service so he can call our program director, ellie could be in the kitchen with full bars, texting away about her new pumpkin bread recipe. while masha is a one hill town with no mode of transport other than the heel-toe express, mizan is a town of many peaks and valleys, serviced by line taxis and bajajs (or “moto-rickshaws”. the importance of that tidbit will be clear soon enough). mizan sits nestled into a sprawling valley, surrounded on all sides by rolling green hills.
now and again in mizan, amongst the petite, sharp features, and mocha skin of the ethiopian population, you spot a group of unbelievably tall, broad featured, pitch black gambellans (though gambella is part of ethiopia, they are a small fraction of the population, more closely resembling the sudanese tribes on which they border, than do most other regional peoples of ethiopia, who tend toward melting-pot features from the arab north, the serengeti tribes to the south, and the indian traders who frequented the ports of what is now eritrea).
mizan is the high water mark for the jimma loop’s civil evolution.
a supe becomes a masha, becomes a gore, becomes a metu, becomes a mizan. stopped just shy of a tepi, this evolution could make the jimma loop perhaps the quaintest thing ethiopia has ever seen.
speaking of the quaintest thing Ethiopia has ever seen…
mizan must also be defined by it’s PCVs, because that is the lens through which other PCVs will inevitably see a place in habited by our own kind.
as i noted in who’s corrupting mark this time? mizan’s PCVs are perhaps the two nicest people in all of PC ethiopia. mark’s house is strewn with “brewed in wisconsin” bumper stickers, and packers paraphernalia, as you would expect from any home grown wisconsonite worth his cheese, and it is furnished with the indescribable trappings of the former volunteer. indescribable because, like mizan itself, to try and explain just what the hell ray’s furniture is is to confuse the issue even more. you just sort of have to see it to understand.
is it a throne? is it a giant spice rack? is it an entertainment center?
i’m already muddling things up. i’ve said too much.
the real showpiece of mizan is ellie’s place.
just over mark’s fence, and past the shint bet is the most adorable house i’ve yet seen in peace corps.
ellie spent her childhood traveling africa as a missionary, and this seems to have imbued her with a knack for recreating the america of post cards and soda commercials just about anywhere in the world. she has done her house up in shades of maroon and forest green, adorned the furniture with silver knickknacks, embroidered white linen habesha scarves, and ornamental candles, she has an inexhaustible playlist of holiday music, she seems to be perpetually pulling some sort of sweet spiced bread out of the oven, and the pièce de résistance: a fully decorated, two-foot tall collapsible (and thus packable) christmas tree.
mark and ellie are the coolest parents 1958 ever saw!
but all the comfort and décor of ellie’s house was non-existent until she rolled up her sleeves and made it happen. before ellie lived there, it was ray’s house, adorned with the same “i see it, and i still don’t believe it” furniture that now crowds mark’s living room. the walls were crumbling and dirty, and pests found the whole place more comfortable than people.
in our escape from the frustrations of our disgusting little masha hovels, ellie reminded alex and i that life is what you make it. if you’re willing to spend the time and money, you can make just about anything into just about anything else.
and mark reminded us that if you’re not willing to spend the time and money, just slap some bumper stickers over it.
but don’t get it twisted. all this unassuming americana isn’t by any means boring, or dated.
after dinner we sat on ellie’s porch around her roaring pile of flaming garbage (gotta get rid of it somehow), and mark offered me 1birr to spit kerosene on the fire.
lucky for me, spitting fire is a skill i already possess.
the fireball burst forth from my mouth, and we all had a good laugh of amazement.
then this adorable swedish-american missionary who has somehow mastered the art of the fully functional, fully portable christmas snatched the can of kerosene away from me and said perhaps the least motherly thing possible in those particular circumstances…