05 October 2015

coming home - part II

This is part II in a series that will constitute the final punctuation of this blog. In case you missed it and don't feel like scrolling down, check out part I here.


I wake to the sounds of mortar & pestle coffee grinding, of Orthodox incantations, of roosters crowing and dogs barking. Once a pesky inhibitor of sleep beyond dawn, this familiar tapestry serves as a welcome reminder that I'm really here, that I’d actually gone through with it – a far cry from the state of trepidation and uncertainty that marked my first mornings in Addis Ababa back in 2012.

If the olfactory reminders are not reassurance enough, I'm soon greeted by Nesru, one of my go-to cab drivers, to kick off my journey down to Bekoji. Smiles, laughter, and fond recollections abound the whole of our ride out to Kality, the bus station I used to joke translated from Amharic as “hell on earth.”

Something is different this time, however, and it seems beyond the wave of euphoria I'm riding for having simply made it all the way here. I receive nary a single ounce of unwanted attention, have zero issues locating and boarding an Asella-bound bus, and encounter zero insistence to pay extra for my large backpack. It's as though I’m enshrouded in some sort of magic force field.

The bus pulls out of the station and onto the main road. I call Abdella to let him know I'm on my way, estimating an arrival 5-6 hours past. Little do I know what I have coming. There are times when Ethiopia has a way of amplifying Murphy’s Law to exponential degrees, ensuring not only all that can go wrong will, but that the unimaginable will emerge, suggesting, perhaps, that you’ve become the subject of some profound cosmic joke. The universe must know, however, that today is a special day.

A couple miles down the road, we cut left toward what is undoubtedly a highway onramp. Now, try and put yourself in my shoes for a moment. For the entirety of my two years of Peace Corps service, this highway, known locally as “addis menged” (new road), seemed nothing more than an optical illusion. For the longest time, it appeared to be nearing completion, yet never opened for traffic before my 2014 departure. Imagine my elation, further pronounced by the absence of reaction from anyone else on the bus.

In what seems like the blink of an eye, we pull into the Asella bus station; indeed, a distance that once required 4-5 hours of transit evaporated in a mere 2 ½. A handful of station attendants still recognize me and direct me toward the Bekoji buses without any verbal exchange. In the front passenger seat sits one of Bekoji’s many runners with whom I’d interacted at some point during my two year tenure. “Josey!” he exclaims, his round eyes growing instantly wide. We shoulder bump, I hand my bag to the bus helper, again without any request for payment, and the final and undeniably most beautiful leg of my journey home is underway.

A few clicks outside of Asella, we're required to pull over for a standard protocol traffic stop. While the police officer reviews paperwork, a boy with a large, silver butterfly on his shirt appears next to my window. Anyone close enough to know the details of my last year knows that “The Butterfly” has been an ever-present symbol, and a guiding force of sorts. I am immediately overcome with the sense that I am unequivocally on the right path.

As we pull away from the stop, the opening strings of Konjiye by Gossaye Tesfaye have me pinching myself to make sure I’d actually woken up on Forrest’s floor that morning. I had mentioned in Part I that Foad and I listened to this song together on my final day in Ethiopia, and that I regard it as the most beautiful song of Ethiopian origin, but I did not note how I first came to discover it: On the morning of what was to be my final bus ride from Addis Ababa to Bekoji, I rose before the sun and rode with Nesru out to Kality. The mood on that bus was incredibly laid back, much as it was today, and I found myself in a tranquil, reflective state about my time in Ethiopia. A brilliant sunrise ignited the mountains outside of Addis, and “Konjiye” came through the speakers, leaving me misty eyed as I looked around at the faces of a people I had come to admire and respect. It was the first and only other time I’d heard the song in Ethiopia, apart from my playing it for Foad, until now.

Our driver navigates the Sagure market day livestock herds with grace and ease. I catch a glimpse of my PST host family as we whiz by their home on the south end of town, adding a little extra perk to my permasmile. I will drop in on them in a few days. For now, it’s onto Bekoji.

The road to Bekoji from Sagure winds through lush highland farms that radiate thousands of shades of green this time of year. Rolling past streams and eucalyptus groves, it’s not long before you can pick up Gelama, an 11,400 foot mountain overlooking the Town of Runners, from whence the sun emerges each morning. On this day, the distant horizon features a special guest; the base of a rainbow, bigger, brighter, and more vibrant than any I’ve ever seen, beams straight down upon Bekoji.

I lean toward the driver. “Melestegnya waraj alle,” I mutter, as I had hundreds of times before. “Ishi”, he replies, slowing as we approach the school gate. Hopping off and inhaling the cool mountain air, I can’t help but notice how much Bekoji had changed in little more than a year – painted guard rails through the center of the road, more roads paved with cobblestone, signs advertising a local park, five new multi-story buildings, bajajes zipping and zooming every which way, the new and finally finished town hall...it's a lot to take in, but appearances notwithstanding, it is still undoubtedly my town – the one I know and love; the one I would close my eyes and get lost in time and again back in the States.

I hoist my pack over my shoulders, cross the main road, pass the town hall, and start down the dirt road toward my compound, smiling and shaking my head in disbelief. A pause in front of the aluminum gate; a moment or two to soak it all in. I reach up over the top right corner, flipp up the latch, and pass through.

I walk down the path between the main house and livestock holds to find Werknesh and her new daughter-in-law, Sophi, stooped over a basin of laundry. I drop my bags and embrace Werknesh, recalling the sobbing mess I was when last doing so, and proceed through several rounds of traditional, extra-jubilant Ethiopian greetings. We enter the house, where we're eventually joined by Abdella and sons, and settle down on the floor mats for great food and even better coffee, all the while catching up on life and simply elated to once again share some quality time.

It’s good to be home. 

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