"Rest of the World 2013-14" story # 55

Jimma, Ethiopia           September 16, 2014

It was time for a positive story. The last story from Ethiopia.
     There were times here when I achieved a sense of community. Community was important to me.
     It made me happy to frequently run into people I knew, people I liked. And interesting characters who I didn't like. It made me happy to see them without calling them first, without driving to their neighborhoods. I liked living in small towns and villages where everyone knew me. I liked people who were out in their communities, open to meeting new people.
     In Ethiopia, the first place I found this was in the Surma Region's capital of Kibish. There, my community was not the Surma people but the highlander Ethiopians who had jobs there. They liked me, though I was trying my hardest to befriend the Suri people, who just kept begging from me.
     One day, as I was returning to town after a walk through the Suri's tall-grass village where a beautiful topless girl at a well gave me water and told me to bathe, I found a highlander friend sitting beside a modern residencial building. Mulu Alam, a smily Amhara man with rotting teeth who worked in government finance, welcomed me to his apartment. He introduced me to his highlander neighbors, and we ate injera bread with a split-bean sauce.
     Most days, highlanders and I visited a cafe where a chubby Afar woman (from the Islamic north) served us hot peanut drinks and grinded fresh coffee.
     And I often ate in restaurants with my friend, Netsanet Fituma Refu. He and his roommates - Alene, Alex, Dita, and Mochalo - wouldn't let me pay for a single piece of goat meat. Not even for the raw pieces of beef that Ethiopians ate for breakfast. Netsanet, who was working to eradicate Guinea worm disease, one day noticed specks floating in his glass of water. "They must be tadpoles," he said, "crustaceans." He took a drink. "Maybe they're Guinea worm larvae?" I said. And we all laughed.
     That's what people in communities did.

But where was I going to live, once I finished my last thrump?
     In Michigan? In my spread-out hometown, one could only reach the homes of close neighbors by walking, and the car-filled city was dangerous and tiring to travel by bicycle. I could have a community if I lived downtown, but it wouldn't include any of my best friends nor family.
     In the Czech Republic? In my beloved small town of Rymarov, people walked everywhere and always met friends. One could take part in weekly and monthly sporting events, winter balls, lots of music concerts, or nights at the bars. The surrounding countryside was also an ever-present friend. I almost always felt good here.

In Ethiopia, the second place I found community was in the Surma people's village of Tulgit.
     Here, I stayed with a dark-skinned, big-bellied highlander named Jibriel. When he wasn't farming, he was always joking and giggling. When the Suri people saw me staying in his home, he told them I was his son. When a Suri man begged for some of the peanut butter we were eating, he told the man it was frog meat. The thin beggar ran away, disgusted, and my host "Kengo Bu" (Big Belly) laughed.
     Ethiopians didn't eat duck meat. So, Jibriel threw a dinner party and he announced to his guests, only after they'd eaten, that the main course had been duck. Another time, he was serving meat to an African foreigner. Jibriel asked, "Do you eat gazelle in your country?" "No, no." "How about wild pig?" "No, we don't eat wild pigs," said the man, currently chewing on wild pig.
     But mostly, my community in Tulgit was made up of the happy Suri children, the women and men I spoke with, the twenty-year-old boys sitting around the grassy center of the village. Traditional Suri people.
     Tulgit represented my highlight from Ethiopia. Maybe I shouldn't have give up on it and left it so easily? It would play a large part in the fiftieth and final version of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! Especially in ...
     The Top 5 Best Things about the Surma Tribe!

     The Suri were amazing. Two women, both wearing heavy lip plates hanging from their lower lips down to the tops of their chests, appeared one day and looked at me with mouthless, silent eyes.
     Boys painted their naked bodies and penises with yellow or white clay, and they came from miles around with their tipless spears, to take part in a stick-fighting ceremony that would involve fighting, girls, and dancing.


     The Suri spoke their language with softness and delight. They spoke in short sentences. "Kuni ori?" (Where are you coming from?) Nearly every conversation was bliss. "Teriya nanu." (This is my wife.)
     I gave myself a Suri name: "Bar Dadab." (Mr. Book.) The children and old women pronounced the "d"s in this name as if the roofs of their mouths were sticky.
     One cold morning, I wore my winter hat. Suri men called to me: "Sabba raman! Sabba raman!" (Tall head! Tall head!) I passed them, and they alerted me that I'd dropped my jar of peanut butter. One man picked it up and walked quickly past me, holding it as if it was his. I asked him peacefully, "Mesi ong?" (What are you doing?) He returned the peanut butter to me and laughed.
     But mostly, I had good conversations with the teen-age boys. One young boy surprised me when he asked about my girlfriend in Europe: "Inye hini gony nea bargiye?" (Do you want to visit her at night?) We all laughed. But the next day, the Protestant boys asked me, "Inye yebhiyo Tumu?" (Do you believe in God?) because I hadn't gone to church. This question was followed by a long conversation in the forest. We learned a lot from it.

     The lowland climate of the Suri's land was difficult on me, difficult on highlanders.
     I began to think that it was necessary for people to collect sunlight on their bodies in the daytime. To fight off disease. To stay warm in the rains and in the nights.


     But, there were also problems in the Surma Region. The # 1 and # 2 items on the following list were enough to drive me out of Kibish and Tulgit, on several occasions.
     Here were ... The Top 5 Worst Things about the Surma Region!


     When I sought to travel somewhere, my only hope was to catch a ride on the back of an Isuzu truck. Then, I hung on for my life as the truck bounced over bumps in the road and climbed mountains.


     One night, a woman drunk on geso grabbed me and tried to kiss me. I should've kissed her, if I were to stay true to my principals of never rejecting a woman. But when I saw her hanging lip coming towards my face, I got scared.

Once I finished my travels, what kind of romantic relationships did I want to have?
     Did I want to live in a free love community? If such a place could exist, that sounded ideal.
     Or did I want to have a monogamous relationship? (Eww. The word, "monogamous", left a bad taste in my mouth.) As much as I liked the idea of free love, I had to admit I liked some girls more than others. And at any given time, I must've liked one girl the most. But, monogamy and marriage seemed to destroy communities, or at least to hurt them. Writers such as Karel Capek and J.D. Salinger used "curtains" as a symbol for marriage, because monogamous couples tended to hide behind them.

And the final place I found community in Ethiopia was at Circus Jimma.
     My friend, Barakat Tizazu, was the artistic director here. He arranged for me to have a place to sleep.
     Staying at the circus in Jimma, an Oromo city halfway between Tulgit and Addis Ababa, I ...
     ... danced and played with three small girls. The smallest had long braids and a few teeth missing. She kept trying to ride a sheep, then screaming as she fell backwards; it was no wonder she was missing teeth. The eldest wore "rasta" dreadlocks and kept saving her friend from the sheep. The middle girl wore tight hair braids, and her confident smile twinkled.
     ... had philosophical conversations with young educated guys in the circus cafe.
     ... befriended the Balance Board Guy, who also peformed as The Man of a Million Hats.
     ... and hit it off with the Amazing Flexible Woman.

And then, I traveled to Addis Ababa. I boarded my flight back to Europe.
     I was excited to be leaving Ethiopia. I was excited to go visit the Hungarian free-diver in Malta.
     My twenty-five thrumps were now complete. But, my travels as the Modern Oddyseus would continue until I made it safely home.
     But, before we continued with stories of travels, it was time to take a break to commemorate the completion of a dream. Woohoo! Wow-ee! Commemorate and celebrate. Grab some champagne! For every time one of us achieved his dream, it was good for the whole world.
     And how would we celebrate? Well, since none of you were on my plane to dance with me, we'd just have to settle for ...
     ... a few more stories and philosophy. Just what you wanted!

Happily yours,
the Modern O.

Thanks to Dereje Akallo; Ziraoun Tasfan & a young guy who loved money; Getacho, Mulu, & Masaleh; Surafir; Abtamu; Mosa & Leumesa; and Tamrat for rides!
Much thanks to Jibriel, Alemu, & Zion; and Barakat Tizazu, Abdilah, Abraham Welde, & Circus Jimma for places to stay!

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