The Walk to Language School (a.k.a., the streets of Addis Ababa)

This was written by a new missionary doctor who hails from rural Oregon. It will give you a taste of our area of town.

The Walk to Language School

It’s only a 25 minute walk.

Each workday morning we walk the two kilometers to language school.  I say workday but that’s a relative term – every day seems a workday for the Ethiopians.  While millions of Ethiopians make much longer walks through similar conditions daily, I was struck by the incredible variety of experiences that accompanies us.

The day begins amidst hundreds of school children in black pants and teal sweaters walking hand-in-hand to school.  The go down the hill to the Christian school, up the hill to a Moslem school, and others to government schools.  Invariably they smile and the regulars reach for our hands.  (We make a mental note to wash well if scabies are floridly apparent.)  We pass multiple small shops in the first few blocks – bakery, pharmacy, internet place, café, a tailor, other shops we don’t quite understand.  A group of boys cluster on the minibus corner staring intently at feet – the ubiquitous shoe shiners of Addis.  They are always young men.  The passing pedestrians navigate the chaos of an uneven sidewalk, full minibuses oblivious to live, moving obstacles with one, two or four legs, and small 3-wheeled bajjajes even more squirrelly than their larger competitors.  Only minutes from home and thankful to still be in one piece.

Walking up the hill alongside the main road we frequently pass a man passed out, strangely, a fairly common sight.  I’ve briefly reflected on the Good Samaritan and still have no comforting answer.  Vehicles grind up the hill, bouncing on the uneven tarmac, belching black exhaust.  Schoolkids smile.  The sound of woodworking emanates from multiple huts as they put their bedframes outside for staining.  I smile to see their joy using handheld electric planers.  We climb the long stairs to the pedestrian overpass.  A woman has a small coffee ceremony beneath the dusty concrete surrounding by discarded shoes, papers, and humanity’s meager excess.  Yet she always has customers.

Once we passed a woman trying to gently cajole her frightened son across the bridge.  Almost daily we pass two cattle comfortable in their excrement 30 feet above ground.  The next stretch becomes a major walking thoroughfare.  Men holding hands with good friends.  Women in flowing burkas eyes barely visible.  Orthodox women hair covered with beautiful scarves.  Young people chatting with friends, an older man wrapped in a green blanket carrying his yard tools hoping for some work somewhere despite the vacant stare and worn frame.  Every few meters someone occupies a small plot of sidewalk selling gum, sugarcane, or hoping their beeping scale will attract a curious customer.  An older woman moans hands outstretched, another beggar simply lies on the sidewalk hoping for some small token of charity from the passing masses.  An older orthodox man begs further down the hill.

While it may be hard to believe, we leave the sidewalk as the road levels out because the walking masses become lines of workers waiting for buses or minibuses to take them somewhere else in the city.  We pass what was a store – burned in minutes two weeks ago despite the arrival of firetrucks.  It did provide quite a distraction.  It also made me wonder who we would call in the event of an emergency – I have no idea.  I didn’t know there were firetrucks.  (We have no smoke detector – thank God for a mud house.)

The last five minutes we navigate smaller roads rarely traveled by vehicles.  Some larger trucks are on the side of the dirt road, occasionally a man smiles, wave and greets us from high atop a stack of wooden poles used for scaffolding.  The cobblestone street gives a sense of history as we approach two private schools – each singing without restraint at morning assembly.  We pass a man with an empty bag calling out for empty plastic bottles, elsewhere known as a recycling entrepreneur.  His street comrades approach selling brooms, mops and plastic baskets.  We’ve recovered from the foul stench at the previous corner.

It’s only a 25 minute walk.  The sun will beat upon us as we walk home.

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