Here is a story I heard from neighbours who came to visit my dad, after he got rear-ended by a car, fall from his bike and broke a bone in his head, when I was in Addis.
This wasn’t the first time these neighbours were at my family’s home to visit a victim of a car accident. My younger brother Tagel, as in Hell-rasier – “Jail-bird Tagel”, has spent three months in the hospital after being run over by a car – had every bone in his leg and one of his arms crushed, and blood leaked into his brain; denying him the ability to speak for more than 6 months. A year later, he still finds it hard to form a coherent sentence when he is upset, still walks with a limp, is unable to flex the fingers on his right hand and has to stuff a wad of cotton in one of his ears so he could go to sleep without a splitting headache [blood used to come of this same ear, my sister has told me, many weeks after the accident].
Alas.. Tagel, they say, is one of the lucky ones. For.. the driver who run him down [“a saint”, they call him, “a real Ethiopian”, “a true man of God”] not only stopped, got out of his car, and flagged other cars from finishing the job at a great personal risk on himself [it was around 11 night]; but carried my brother in his arms all the way to the hospital wailing inconsolably. My mother still remembers fondly how he is said to have been covered in blood when he got to the ER, where he apparently called his young wife and bade her goodbye, “yesewu lij gediyalehu… bey bichashin nesh.. lijachinin asadgi”.
This – in a country where even the most humane person admits the best route to take after hitting a person with your car is either to step on the gas or finishing them off so you don’t have to deal with hospital bills; corrupt cops and Attorneys who won’t leave you alone even if the person you hit has been made whole and refused to press charges against you and/or “yedem kassa” of maybe 10 thousands – not to mention a personal liability that may last you a lifetime – merits a badge of decency.
Or so most seem to think.
[It should be noted that my brother’s “gechi” did not only pay all bills related to my brother’s hospital stay – but has himself and his family spend nights taking personal care of him – allowing my mother to keep her job and my dad to sleep in his own bed – not to mention the countless gifts they got him and “teBots” they brought my family every time they visited afterwards. “Beteseb”, my parents consider him now. And my dad, before his own accident, has actually gone to the Yeka Kifle Ketema Police station and provided a sworn statement allowing all cases to be dropped against the young man, and the small publishing press his family runs]
Like I said, Tagel was one of the very lucky ones.
The rest, i.e. the 1 out of every 5 car accident victims in Ethiopia, are left to die in the street – and they do – so the driver can avoid the inconvenience of dealing with being held responsible for it.
I remember hearing back in the days, before:
1. every major street in Addis has been dug to lay China-constructed roads;
2. every sidewalk is being taken by either a “suQ bederete”, a “lemagn” or a guy with a Health-o-Meter charging 50 cents a weighting;
3. and driving became a rat-race taking place in a maze,
4. in cars whose safety belt is ripped out the minute they passed Customs; and suggesting wearing a belt makes passengers giggle
5. before Facebook posts and mobile phones distracted both driver and pedestrian in such a way that no body is looking where they are going half the time
6. in a city where cars parked in the middle of the street because of said over-flowing activity in the pavement
7. on roads with NEITHER traffic lights nor zebra crossings to speak of
Anbessa Bus’ policy on car accidents used to be “if you got into an accident, you better kill the accident”.
This was ten.. twenty.. years ago; prior to EPRDF perceiving infrastructure to be it’s only remaining – good – legacy and contracted out the whole nation to its Chinese Over-lords without any consideration as to what or who would be lost in the process! To build on steroids, as some would say.
So .. in those less-accident prone days, where an Anbessa Autobus can chase you down and not hesitate to damage your car for passing him on a lane he was hoping to get in, drivers, apparently, got fired or forced to pay insurance when they wound somebody. If they killed the person, however, the company – not wanting to fork the thousands of birr in “kassa” – hires a lawyer to defend the offender. And that lawyer, rumor has it, would shame OJ Simpson’s defense-team in his ability to win a case and allow criminals to go free.
So the story [my neighbours tell] is about this guy who – on his way home one night, came across a person lying in the street. He stops his car, gets out, and investigates. Upon investigation, he learns man lying on street has been hit by a car but was still breathing. This Good Samaritan grabs man by the leg – or arm – puts him in his car and rushes him to the hospital. Man’s life is saved, but not before the local police showed up, slaps the cuff on Good-Samaritan’s hand, and drag him to “kerchele”, for refusing to take responsibility for “meGcheting” the man. Fortunately for the G.S. guy, patient woke up and confirmed it was a different car at an earlier point that run him down. Man goes home. Patient stays in hospital. [Real perp breathes a sign of relief]. Everybody is happy.
If the victim hasn’t waken up, needless to say, it would have been a different story.
Even if you had witnesses, they say, who can corroborate as to who hit whom and when, you would not avoid getting involved in the unpleasant business of the criminal justice system in Ethiopia by the mere act of removing the body from where it lay. You are, in effect, “tampering with evidence” – making it hard for cops to do their jobs.
Need I underline what the lesson of the story is? Or what a root it seems to have taken? And how I have come to learn three people I know [a neighbour’s kid, my mother’s friend’s college educated son and a buddy of my truck-driver cousin who fall asleep behind the wheel were a few of the many fatal traffic accidents whose killer is still at large?!]. And how in a country which has, according to Newsweek “in excess of 190 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles — compared with Kenya and United Kingdom, where the figure is about 19 and 2 per 10,000 vehicles, respectively” and a continent that has less than has 4% of the world’s cars, that this is a scary lesson?!
[Does this make you want to petition all your family and friends, giving “the danger of dying through a car accident any day now” as a reason?! God help them, but it does me].
[And dare I add how I have only witnessed one fatality in the 6 years I lived in America – and that in a town called San Marcos in Los Angeles. And the one place in Seattle considered an unsafe corridor – pron to car-accidents, Rainier Avenue, which “claims 1/30th of the city’s traffic collisions, and an even larger share of traffic fatalities — two in the last three years, 11 in the last 10″ is a mostly Ethiopian and Somali community? And if you looked into a car whose driver refused to yield for you, or drove after yielding in a way that endangered your feet; it’s more likely than not to be an East African driver or a fucking Asian bitch?]
We should be able to do something about this!!!
Incase you haven’t been home for years and didn’t know how bad it has gotten; here is a little of what I noticed when I was there two months ago. First video courtesy of MamaZ:
Read more: An Ethiopian Holocaust.
It occurred to me, after 24 hrs of flight, a duty-free shopping rendezvous through Frankfurt airport; a lot of bad airlines food [that I had out of boredom], and plenty of getting up to let a seat-mate [a seat-mate whose capacity for sleep is astounding] make his way to the rest room; it occurred to me that going to a country and living among the “indigenous people” [as we used to call them in my tour-agency employment days] is like being baptised into a new life. It’s not like a walk in the woods. Or a train ride through the country-side. Or even staying long enough to buy keepsakes and take photos, for family and friends, of things you were too busy to notice.
Once you figured out how to negotiate the roads so you can cross just in time to make it alive [the same roads that made you want to change your return date and fly home early the first two weeks, as all Diasporas do, and are a grave reminder how desperate it is to live in a country where no one can afford to say “Abet” on behalf of the average Yohannes], once you watched “Teketai Filega” and betted on who would make it and which judge would send the other one away with what Ama-Englizegna expression, once you got “home-bred” enough to tell a woyala “asgebat ene ezih ga ekemetalehu” and became ok with mixing one part of Rotana liquid-soap to three parts water to make it last longer, it’s hard to go back.
Go back you would try, ofcourse, physically atleast. The packing and the actual flight [to the civilized world] which should prepare you to be entered into the old life – a ritual meant to help you shed the new so you could be sawn into the old seamlessly; you spend it worrying about losing your luggage. You arrive at SEATAC airport; where you are ushered into, kicked about and run around in pursuit of those same luggage full of dirQosh that has been crushed to dust before you [even] left Bole Airport. Then you walk out into the American sky; bizarre and oddly familiar at the same time. You go home, through highways where strangers [man or donkey] don’t jump into to cross over, through industrial complexes whose appearance isn’t as much of an eye sore as every building in Addis seems to be. You recognize the old streets, how “White” America really is [gone are the days in which only brown eyes from black faces would be staring back at you instead of minding the road – as they should – every time you turn to look at something], how none of them would know where you have been and who you have been fighting with only 30 hrs earlier.
Then you stop looping around and give yourself unto the merciful embrace of a confused … drunk-like sleep.
Some 6 hrs later, you wake up. You murmur something meaningless into your partner’s ears, go back to sleep and find out that you were to be re-born into the old life – kicking and screaming – as if your days were rivers of wild waters that has to crush violently to be fitted together.
You go out into the streets, streets with signs – zip codes – and well-kept lawns no one has peed into, like a day hasn’t passed between January 1st and February 2nd, 2015. A shy and bewildered you .. trying to re-pretend to belong here, to be just another working girl standing in line, ordering a Latte – smiling her thankyou at the nice motorist who stopped for her even though he didn’t have to, another Seattlite who knows her way about – keeping the fact [to herself–yourself] that what you wish was to walk back into the old picture where your little sister is always around to go with on your errands, that home was a place where your mom is never too tired to heat you up a wot [with lots of Qibe – to show her love] while retelling the tales you have heard over a rekebot full of buna; that your heart would always belong to the country, a [3rd world] country nonetheless where your father tries to fix all your problems by asking if you need money and where your little brother is only a door away to check on.
Qelemwa, as Abraham “Balageru” Wolde, would say, is Abwara, Tsehai and yeShint bett shita.
It is also a place where (more…)
January 1st at 02:45 hrs. That is when flight LH491 would depart Seattle, WA and head [with a 9 hour lay-over at Frankfurt] to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia carrying yours truly and a couple of other passengers who hope to make it to their destination in one piece and paid good money for it.
Yes, 5 years, 9 months and 17 days later – I will be leaving my adopted home and set foot on the land my “etibt” was buried at and all bitter memories made. I did not come to America with 8 bucks in my pocket so it’s only proper that I won’t return home a rich woman. When I left home in March 2009, I left with two thousand of the crispiest… most “tire” American dollars Bank of Ethiopia was willing to sell me after giving my cousin Enu, my mother and my little sister 15,000 birr each for a rainy day [those NGOs aren’t every college graduate’s wet-dream for nothing!].
When I go back three week henceforth, I will go back a woman in debt: owing this bank 48 hundred dollars in credit card debt; that bank 4 thousand in Line of credit, a hefty personal loan of 5,000 from Wells Fargo and a couple of almost-maxed out store cards with February’s phone bill and rent still to come out of my 17 day paid-vacation cheque.
But would I let my Zemedoch know that? Hell no! I will go with my hands full and my luggage shaken and pressed down. Wearing brand name clothes that are understated and overpriced [“kenesu ansesh atitayi”, was the repeated warning of my Virginia Beach cousin], I will walk towards my flesh and blood frenemies with two “shanta”s [and a carry on] full of all the stuff 3,000 US Dollar could buy. Stuff I will distribute among them, all the 39 of them, with a smile I can barely afford on my face. Polos and DG sandals for the men; dresses, perfumes and scarfs for the women; clothes and toys for the children and t-shirts and gadgets for the teenagers.
And while doing this – or preparing for that – is it all the money I got to pay off upon return [the late feels, calls from creditors, the tarnished credit score] that worries/wouldworry me? Nope. It’s the fear that the shoes might not fit. That the dresses might fail to impress. That the perfumes maybe far too many to pass duty free regulations. And the gadgets would be pried out of hand and taken by men at “gumRuk”. That they would say things about me the minute they walked out the door. That that would make my parents bow down their heads on the inside. That all these crap I throw at their faces won’t blind them from seeing that I am, and always will be, a woman who made it to America but failed to make it in America. [Not even as the blogger she was back home, right?. Too bad they don’t have a Sale on the gray-cells at Best Buy].
They say it gets easier with time. [I say isn’t this what we were trying to get away from to begin with?!]
As of 2 pm this afternoon, I am officially a black American citizen [who has “absolutely and entirely renounced and abjured all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen”]
To show for it, I have in my possession:
- a Naturalization Certificate.
- Copy [of a copy of a copy] of President Obama’s congratulation letter – on a White House note-pad if I may add :-)
- A note book on The Constitution and what it means to be an American citizen
- A small flag – seen herewith in the company of my YeFederalist Ethiopia bandira, a miniature Egyptian pyramid – from Egypt; a pen my brother Tagel wove for me while he was in prison (and still not talking to me) a decade or so ago – way before I was married to an American and had any intension of crossing over here – and my favorite sini of all times
- And a golden-emblemed, real classy, folder to hold it all
And all I had to do was read and write “Colombus Day is in October”.
No kidding! That was the reading and writing part – put together!
Infact, the hardest part of the interview wasn’t the reading, the writing or answering 10 out of the 100 questions on American Government and American history I had to memorize. The hardest part was remembering the stuff I put on my application: dates and places of residence; where I worked, when I got divorced and got my green card. [Ofcourse — not lying on your original documents always helps!!]. My interviewer was cute, friendly and non-judgmental. He didn’t scowl even when I mistook my October 30th birthday for 10th of October, “because I am used to writing it like that”, I apologized promptly. Thirty minutes later, I was out the door with a huge smile and an oath-ceremony qetero for the same afternoon.
After the oath ceremony, where I was one of three Oathees ..[Oathers …Oath-takers…] who weren’t surrounded by family and friends [Troy has to go back to work after dropping me there and my cousin was somewhere I don’t want to reach her at] I decided to lift my spirit by treating myself to some organic sandwich and expensive coffee. While eating and waiting for my shoes to dry, I felt melancholic. Not because I won’t be voting tomorrow and save democrats from themselves; or even because I don’t seem to have any “metasebia” of the two important days in my life in America – February 19, 2009 and November 3rd, 2014. But because, despite feeling more at home here than I ever did in Ethiopia; and having worked hard, and waited on pins and needles for the interview appointment for months, to become a citizen; all I can think of, sited in that cozy chair at Panera’s, looking out at the world and the pouring rain, was “Anchi addis abeba mayetun tewsh woyi? Asadgegesh sitefu yetalu atyim woy?”
Maybe it’s too early to tell if I would ever belong.
Or I just may be missing “dulet”.