Reaching 30 is a big thing for me. I mean, it’s huge! Never thought that day would come, but guess what? It WILL (if it hasn’t already). Great thing is, I can now reflect on the journey so far. Let me tell you, there are so many memories, bad and good that make me realize it was all worth it…life that is! My favourite memories go way back, my beautiful childhood, in the good old days living in Addis Ababa. I am one of the fortunate ones who had the opportunity to visit Addis several times since I emigrated. I have seen a lot of change both positive and negative.
The most profound change to me however, is simple – the change in the behavior of young people. I mean these guys are really liberated! They express themselves, they dress how they want, go where they want, and some even GET everything they want. In a safe bubble filled with love and support, they have the opportunities that I never even dreamed off when I was their age. Now…I am not hating, quite the opposite. I celebrate their liberty and God keep them safe and expand their mind, enrich their souls and allow them to reach true self-love and peace…bla, bla, bla all that good stuff.
What really amuses me is how simple little things were such a big deal back in the 80’s and 90’s in Addis. I know some of you feel me…and in some ways, not to be biased, but the slightest digression into the unlawful, frowned upon or forbidden was as exciting as tasting the forbidden fruit. The simple things were so much fun! I guess cause we did not have much choice back then, but at the same time, we did not take much for granted either. My one wish is to put all of the young people living in Addis in a time machine and go back two decades so they can get a taste of life without: internet, satellite tv, a ‘choice’ of nightclubs, parents ok with you going to nightclubs, traffic, NGO’s, ring-roads, Hummers, any competition with cake from the world famous (in Addis) Enrico and…the list is endless. In short, the ‘great’ old days.
Now, everyone’s experience in Addis is different but allow me to take you through one of my favorite memories.
‘The day party’ (only kind of party I was allowed to go to in those days)
Holding onto my cheek, I looked at him in disbelief. ‘How could have this gone so wrong? The plan was meticulous, full-proof. Is this the end?’
These were the questions running through my head that beautiful Saturday afternoon in Addis Abeba, 16 years ago. You see, there was no question. Mikes’s parents were out of town so he had to throw a day party and we had to be there! Not only was everyone going to be there, it was across the road from my best friend’s crib! So we came up with a strategy:
Question to ask Parents: ‘Can I go to best friend’s house on Saturday afternoon?’
Motive: ‘To STUDY’
Friday evening, I put the question to my mother (the more amiable one)…she bought it. She would drop me off herself on Saturday lunchtime. Fantastic, she never suspects anything! So, all set, only thing to worry about was how to take my party clothes?!
It’s Saturday morning, my school bag in hand (full of my party outfit and heavy Geography textbooks) I walk up to my mom to ask what time we would be leaving. ‘Wey, sorry hode, tsegur bet ketero alegn, abatish yewsedesh’. Blast it! She dumps me for the hairdresser and says my dad will take me instead. This would have been fine in any other family, but in mine, it’s a different story. My dad at that time was a man greatly feared. He commanded respect, he had rules and principles such as: ‘no guys should ever call the house’ and ‘no nail polish’. One of the rules that he never stated but I was sure was high up on the list was ‘UNDER ABSOLUTLEY NO CIRCUMSTANCES ON GODS GREAT EARTH AND OVER MY DEAD BODY ARE MY KIDS GOING TO DAY PARTIES’. Granted, all of his rules were based on his desire to protect his daughters, totally get that…now! But then, they were a pain in my Ethiopian behind!
So, I look at him with innocent eyes across the breakfast table, and he agrees to drop me off. Two hours later we are on our way. I decide to take my heavy Geography books out and put them on my lap to reinforce my motive: ‘I am going to STUDY’.
We slowly drive up to my best friends gates and my heart stops. Across the narrow road which separates my best friends house from the day party house, I notice one of the guys in my class waving to me and bbq smoke engulfing the air, music blaring. I hope to God my want-to-be CIA father does not notice but of course he turns over to me and in a calm voice says ‘Are you planning on joining those boys across the road?’ in English. Mind you, when my dad talks to me in English, it means he has something serious to say. I shriek ‘NOOOO’…unconvincingly…’I am going to STUDY at my best friends house, we have a test coming up and we need to share notes…babble, babble, mumble’. I must have gone on for a bit because his eyes glazed over. He said ‘Ok, but I hope you are not lying to me, study hard, I will pick you up at 6’ (remember, study or not, in those days, you are in your house at dusk, without question). I kiss him innocently on his cheek and go into my best friend’s house.
I explain to her that the transportation strategy did not work out as we first planned, but all is still GO. She is relieved and we proceed to her bedroom to begin the clothing ritual. After an hour of presenting, dressing, swapping and confirming, we are finally ready to go. Looking and feeling great, our hearts thump as loud as our 1994 clogs on the cement as we walk across the road and knock on the door. Door opened, we step in. It was heaven! Boys of all shapes and sizes as far as the eye could see. Boys outside of our school! (Quite the novelty as the ones in our class were almost family at that point!). Food, drinks…alcohol (not that I drank any but the point is, it was there!) A parent-less house in the center of the city. It seemed like everyone was invited.
After two hours in the land of Eden (what seemed like two minutes) one of the boys from our class sprints towards me and shouts ‘Yo, your dad’s car is outside!’. With what can only be described as a combination of utmost panic, dread and fear I look at my watch to check the time. I could not believe that I had been floating aimlessly on this cloud of sin for more two hours? My watch showed 10 minutes to 3pm. My heart sank, as I realized yet again what a great candidate Dad would have been for the CIA, no, really. I got a flashback of my unconvincing ‘NOOO, I am going to STUDY’ proclamation and the unconvincing look on his face. I was stunned, frozen. Seeing my predicament, my bros from school came up with a plan. ‘Ok, listen’, one of them said. I awoke from my daze in the hopes of salvation. He continues, ‘Ok, he thinks you are at your best friend’s house, right? Which is across the road, right? So, all we need to do is get you across the road and put you back in her house!’ He exclaimed with a big smile on his face.
‘Are you crazy?’ My best friend screamed, ‘And how do you expect to get her there, fly her across? Or maybe you want to tie a rope and she can give us a circus show? Her dad is parked right between the two houses man!’
‘I know that’, he responded quickly, ‘But what we can do is get a load of guys surround her, and walk across to the other house keeping her in the middle of us; he wont even see her!’
My best friend and I looked at each other. We both knew what the other was thinking. Do I have a choice? Not accepting defeat, I agreed. Heart in throat, I walked to the gate with no less than 10 guys. A few positioned in front, stepped out first. The rest, surrounding me, stepped out slowly after. We successfully managed to walk out in perfect synchronization, myself in the middle, surrounded by a wall of pure male, teenage will. All of a sudden, an adult male voice shouts, ‘HELDANA’. It was my dad with car window rolled down and head out. Before you could say ‘testosterone’, the protective wall of male teenagers were long gone, leaving only me in the middle of the road, wearing my party outfit and the guiltiest look on my face…
I would like to dedicate this article to my Dad, for always being there for me and to the guys who tried to save me from a whooping but the next day at school ran up to me to say ‘DAMNNNNN, Heldana, we heard the slap from OUTSIDE the car man, we thought you were dead!’.