Children walk home from school in the early evening light that artistic photographers dream of. Everything has taken on a fresh coat of sun-splashed colors: reds and yellows, especially, burst into the retina, but are tempered by the warm glow of many shades of beautiful brown skin radiating a wholesomeness emanated in the smiles and laughter shared by classmates and friends.
Kenny Rogers’ “Evening Star” flows out of the car speakers like a soothing mountain creek. A dry blue sky with puffy white clouds that haven’t spilled rain in two days is welcomed by the people of Addis. I find solace in the man chopping wood by the roadside, not too unlike the people back home who chop wood to feed the bellies of their woodstoves in winter. Another man, 50-something years old I would guess and dressed in a suit that he’s probably had longer than I’ve been out of school, rides a beach cruiser bike, probably on his way home after a day at the office.
Many folks carry plastic grocery bags filled with the soon-to-be supper that they bought at the local roadside stands, butcheries, and grocers. The commonness between these food gatherers and the south central Pennsylvania food gatherers stopping at farmers’ roadside stands, Myer’s, Nell’s or on the way home from work resonates in that place somewhere inside of me where reason and logic are not able to shed a light on.
In that moment of peace, when I cast away the questions of why things are the way they are, allowing my eyes to see life on its surface and without need to dig and bring to the surface its ugliness, I float above my own existence, taking refuge in the arms of present-tense. The schoolboy smiling and waving as we pass by is simply what he is, a schoolboy with an authentic smile as big as the Ethiopian sky sprawled out over our heads. He motions his right hand back and forth to say “Hello.” The image locks itself in my heart, and I am in love with humanity.
The humanity to which I am bound up in, rolling along like a kaleidoscope playground ball bigger than a teacher’s globe, is no longer me and you and them. I am the kaleidoscope playground ball called WE bouncing all around, up and down, in a being that cannot be defined because it is always changing. You are WE. They and them are WE. Together WE are going in the direction of nowhere, content in the state of US, the palm-side of WE, thriving in the non-need. WE are US.
WE are US standing by the roadside waiting for the bus to carry us back to our loved ones, having a cup of tea or coffee with our friends at Bilo’s Pastry on Debre Zeit Road, walking hand-in-hand with our little ones as WE cross the street, and cooking ears of corn on mini charcoal stoves…
…the silhouetted lines of banana tree leaves flutter in the late evening breeze. Fluttering like “Flutterby”, the butterfly that lights on a little girl’s shoulders and brings into our world the raw emotions of wonder and discovery. Sitting on shoulders, its wings pulsating slightly up and down, the breath of life fills the girl’s lungs and dances its way through her blood, journeying all the way from her tippy toes to the roots of her braided hair.
Night is not too far off, and Kenny’s “Evening Star” wished for earlier is now twinkling above a neighbor’s bean-pole-straight twin eucalyptus trees. The smell of roasting coffee wafts on the calm light air. I hear the sound of a pestle, gripped by another neighbor’s experienced female hands, pounding peppers into the mortar to make berbere, a spicy condiment that accompanies all meals.
Tonight, I will lay down in the bed of solitude, the mattress of WE and the pillow of US providing comfort. My wife will be by my side, the tangible “in love” I am most grateful for. Wrapped up in our love, WE celebrate US, the kaleidoscope playground ball bouncing all around, up and down only to be picked up and tossed back and forth by the children with beautiful brown skin walking home in the artistic photographers’ dream light.
(written 26 September 2005)