First Impressions

First impressions. It’s five o’clock in the morning and you wake up to a symphony of dogs, roosters, and the call for prayer. Your one eye opens (the other is inexplicably swollen, dust they say) and you notice that the sun has barely begun to rise. You aren’t dreaming, you’re in Addis Abeba, city of the New Flower, and the roosters aren’t going anywhere.
First impressions are difficult in a place as multi-dimensional as Addis. There’s good, there’s bad, there is happy and sad, add a bit of chaos and frenetic energy to the mix and maybe you can come close to defining Addis. Addis is bustling out of control in all of its emerging glory. When you walk around, or in our case, stumble around over the blocks and blocks of torn up sidewalks with their piles of rocks and dirt in our Gullagul neighborhood, you notice that Addis is a Tale of Two Cities but without the space between the have and have-nots. Outside the mall, with its shiny, waxed floors, are the little boys with their scales, want to weigh yourself? Or the shoe-shiners, want to clean your shoes? Not now? You’ll need to after the rain comes, because in Addis, the rain makes its presence known, pounding itself into the tin roofs with a force that leaves you with no other choice than to be in awe of its strength.
And its that strength and resilience of the rain, so necessary for life in Ethiopia,that seeps into the very fabric of the people here, one of humanity’s oldest civilizations. I am a Farenge, a foreigner, a target for both smiles and suspicion while here in Addis. My role here might not matter, after all, I am a speck in the crowds walking the streets of Addis. However, what I do know for certain is that whether you are a foreigner, a street kid, the man driving a Mercedes through a crater-filled road, an elderly man with a cane navigating the rubble under his feet, a woman begging for money with her baby strapped to her back, or a museum tour guide taking you through the brutal history of the military dictatorship that he himself survived (The Derg), life in Addis is challenging for everyone. Will it get easier? Maybe. But until then, the obstacle course named Inequality will continue to exist, only to be matched by these unbelievably strong and resilient people who live day to day, building and supporting life in Ethiopia like the rain.