Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Diary from the Amsterdam Airport

Copied from my notebook:

Usually I sit facing the windows, but today I face the Christmas decorations and I can’t stop looking at them – all the overused phrases are right, “marveling at their beauty” “drinking them in” “my small piece of heaven.” The contrast to the ineptly strung, millennium flag colored lights draped across the Addis airport, and my “oh how pretty!” exclamation when we drove up shows how far I’ve traveled since immersing myself in Soddo.

Last night, I chose to interview my interpreter in the tiny room that is Kidist and Ayayu’s home. I didn’t want the Westernized background of book and fireplace in the guesthouse, nor the green of the fluorescents. Rather a plain white wall and the light of an uncovered 60-watt bulb, my camera perched on a worn Bible. I realized as he answered my questions that my ear has adapted to his speech – both accent and style, and that much of what he says will be unusable in “sound bite” form.

Now I drink a small cappuccino that cost $5 exactly, and watch young Dutch men in cargo pants build a 20-foot evergreen beside the cascading lights that still grab my eyes after every four words.

It’s not yet Thanksgiving at home.

I’m touching Ruth’s other world – her Netherlands, and thinking how distant Christmas seemed in Ethiopia. They celebrate on January 7th, and people enjoy injera with doro wat together. It is the day after the celebration in most Latin countries. Christmas presents include traditional Ethiopian clothing and playing cards for children. Some give gold.

My Ethiopian friend, who works at the embassy talked about her Christmas traditions. She bought a tree from a person leaving their tour (embassy workers from abroad work two year tours) with some ornaments. Her girls do the decorating, and add hand made cards and string beads each year. This year she thinks they are old enough to go out and purchase the roughly made nickel crosses to use as decorations. She will explain to them the history of the designs. All the crosses that have wings are from the Lalibela region, while those with geometric, symmetrical angles hail from Gondor or Axum.

I wanted to buy a book on the crosses at the Addis airport. My choices were the one I could afford, boasting yellow photos, cut and paste type and devil-may-care, off the top of the page layout. Or, an incredible book far above my price and size/weight for travel range.

I wish I had visited a bookstore in Addis.

At the Orthodox Church in Soddo that blasts prayers in the middle of the night – in Geez, a language no one speaks, I bought a gold colored cross for 30 birr ($3.34). My nursing student translator called it a “germ spreader” since the priest holds it out to people so they can kiss it. Also for 30 birr, I bought a thing that jangles. I don’t know the English word for it, but it intrigued me because the handle was made from a giant bullet shell. All the metal is the color of the shell, verifying my belief in the link between war and religion.

I wish I had bought more of them because it is hard to find good gifts for men, and I think these would be appreciated; at least by my strange friends.

The guys building the tree are using a genie lift now, and I realize I got full fat milk in my drink and will likely have a stomachache if I finish it. But, it cost FIVE DOLLARS!

Maybe Ruth will buy some clanger-janglers for me.

1 comment:

Sophie said...

I can't tell you how many times I've laughed while reading your blog. You have a gift with words and photos.