April 11th, 2010
I’m caught between joy and disappointment as I see the white sticker adorned mini-bus arrive in the distance. It’s 5 pm in Nekemte and logically I should be scrambling for any vehicle traveling in the western direction but seeing as I just taken a sip my first beer in two weeks I can’t quite bring myself to stand up and yell “ARJO?!” at this approaching vehicle. But if I miss this one it could mean spending a night in town and all I have on me is 30 birr. That should buy me a noisy ‘prosty’ room in the back of an STD den. I take a long pull off my luke warm beer and throw my hand in the air “ARJO?! ARJO GUDDETTU??!!”
The mini-bus slows to a stop and I throw myself into it against the building crowd. I wedge myself into a back seat (near the window thank god) and assume the ‘don’t talk to me’ posture; shoulders towards the window, sunglasses on, head phones - even though my MP3 battery is dead, making enough room for the fourth passenger in the three person back seat but not inviting casual conversation.
After we’ve loaded on enough passengers to pass for a Barnum and Bailey clown car we take off. 10 minutes into the journey the money collector yells back at me “FERENGIE!...” As usual, I ignore. I wouldn’t respond if someone yelled “Fuck face!” or “Pony hooves” so why would I respond to a call that only means ‘non-Ethiopian person’. He pushes his way to the back of the bus and gets 5 inches from my face “FERENGIE!...” I can smell the chat on his breath, it smells like wheat grass and for a moment I’m taken back to the days in high school when my best friends worked at ‘Juice
Shack’ and I would take my lunch breaks from greeting at Hansel Ford there…. Abruptly I’m brought back by the driver slamming on the breaks, a donkey in the road. Why don’t they ever move?
The money collector yells… “FERENGIE!...Arjo Guddetuu deemta?” (WHITEY!...you going to Arjo?)… Innocent question but oh so loaded. I look at him with my perfected, ‘what do you think, buster’ gaze and immediately he breaks out in laughter. The next 5 minutes of conversation in the bus revolves around me and my ‘ways’. I’m talked about as if I’m not even there so that’s what I act like. An object of entertainment, unfeeling and unworthy of human emotion. 30 minutes into the drive I look to my left. Next to me is a young girl, no more that 13 years old. She is beautiful; cross tattoos on her cheeks, traditional Harar braids, and colorful dress. She is holding a water jug in her lap and I notice that the top has been repaired, probably from an ill-timed leak. I rub the fixed plastic and say ‘amma, rakkota hinjiru” (now, there is no problems)…She looks at me so sincerely, so genuine, so clearly and points to her ear. She is deaf.
I’ve never met a deaf Ethiopian. I am so overwhelmed by people wanting to look at me, yell at me, talk to me, just be with me every second of every day that I was unsure what to do with a person who is wholly uninterested in me. And that is what this girl was, wholly uninterested in me. I looked out the window, she looked at her mother. . I looked at her, she stared ahead blissfully unaware. I spoke, she looked out the window.
I wanted to talk to her, to know about her, to be connected to her. I grabbed my ‘too much for one person’ bag and searched for something to unite us. Lip gloss! Lavender vanilla flavor sent by my step-sister. Perfect. I put my finger into the silver disc then offered it to my deaf partner. Cautiously she slid her finger into the gloss container. A smile briefly surfaced but just as quickly she took her finger back applying the gloss to her ever silent lips.
30 more minutes we road with no more that an nod of acknowledgment between us. Her in her own world and me in mine. “FERENGIE!..” I looked at the money collector for that last time. My face read— call me ‘ferengie’, call me moron, call me fuck face, call me whatever you like, I don’t care. I’m a woman, a woman with a purpose, desires, goals and dreams so call me whatever you like, it doesn’t phase me. As I stared him down I felt my neighbors eyes on me, she was watching me, studying me. No words need to be said, I could tell she got it.
A few minutes later she got off. I caught her eyes for a moment and smiled. She smiled back and gave a little wave as the bus took off. It was just a moment, one of thousands I’ve had here. but it’s one I know I’ll have with me for a life time.