White and gold light peeks through the cheesecloth-like tatters that make for curtains, and it glitters against the butter-yellow walls and traditional Ethiopian bedspread, with a brown cross woven across the center, and I stretch out and doze a little longer, in the warm luxurious pool of light.
I realize I’ve slept straight through my alarm, and miss a chance to have a morning without my guide at the churches.
But he’s lounging on the patio when I arrive in the restaurant for coffee and toast (dabo!) Fortunately the British sisters wave me down before he can. Unfortunately, while I wait for my coffee, they are in the middle of a stern conversation with the adorable young waitress of the day before. They’re informing her of the things she must do to make the hotel “decent”. Starting with some real curtains. “They’re old and deplorable really…” They look to me, for support.
I feel my cheeks flush and I shrug my shoulders. “Actually I thought the rooms were quaint! I loved the way they let the light in.” I smile to the equally embarrassed waitress.
The woman starts, “They hardly keep anything or anyone out…”
Abakesh, buna sitchin I ask and she seems eager to for an excuse to exit.
The sisters turn to me, and my Amharic, which draws instant attention from Ethiopians and tourists. It’s amazing you’ve picked up so much.
It’s the least I can do, I’m a visitor in this lovely place.
Seconds later one of the men introduces himself, as the owner of the hotel who lives part time in the US. His wife is in Beacon Hill now.
As the shuttle van arrives, honks impatiently, and I gather up my belongings, he hands me his card, should I need anything here or in Seattle.
Before I sit down or have a minute to be sad about leaving my little paradise, I hear a familiar voice. Hello there It’s my Australian friend from the drive out.
He’s leaving today too. We compare pictures and stories, and laughter. (The rest of the van is silent.)
The driver picks his way through the steep streets, crammed with thousands of men, women, goats, sheep, and donkeys headed up the mountainside for the Lalibela Market.
30,000 plus people make the trek each Sunday to the top of the mountains, to the market. A kaleidoscope of country life, against a blossoming Ethiopian mountainside of chartreuse, fields of feathery tej, and deeper green contrasting against ruddy hills and jagged cliffs.
Against the fresh green and gold of the mountainside, the result of a 10 year record rainfall, the people that stream by (we’re the only car on the road) seem strangely muted, gaunt, gray.
Most are wrapped in thin, dreary, dirty dish-water colored fabrics, with the hollowed features and spindly limbs. An endless procession of people. I try to focus on a face or individual. I try to really see them, but we’re driving to fast.
As we speed by, it feels all wrong. Leaving today. What was I thinking. It takes all I have to resist the urge not to shout “stop the car!” so I can climb out and walk with them.
The driver and his assistant remember me from the other day. You speak good Amharic, you are very smart!
The compliments repeat, and the Australian chimes in. The spell is broken and I resign myself to going with the mechanical flow of things today. I smile and start today’s lesson. I ask and learn the words for sheep, goat and donkey.
We practice over and over, until even the Australian has a new word or two. And then we’re at the airport, holding completely blank boarding passes with two hours to kill.
They lay down fresh cut meskel on our table, then serve strong, black coffee steaming hot in a traditional black urn with a dab of myrrh on the coals, its seductive smoke curling around our heads and noses. We agree, it beats any airport coffee we’ve ever witnessed.
It’s unbelievable; you would love it he tells me of adventures and of Petra, the middle east, South Asia. He’s seen it all. But somehow he’s impressed with me. What he considers a bold move, to travel to Africa for the first time alone, learning the language and daring to embrace it.
“I’ve been to quite a few places, you know. But you’re brave to go it alone, as a woman, here…I admire that.” I brush it off in the moment. It was a simple choice: follow a dream…or not. I chose to at least try. But after we say goodbye (he stays on the plane continuing back to Addis while I depart at Gondar) and I walk, alone again, across the shimmering tarmac, surrounded by these green and ruddy hills. Ethiopian hills.
I’m really doing this. I made it to Africa, finally. It wasn’t how I thought I’d do it. But now that I’m here, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. And I smile (silently sending a heartfelt and belated thanks for the hurtles of the previous year, the catalyst for so many changes, so many good things.)
I sling my little orange backpack on my shoulder to the beat of my flip flops slapping the pavement.