I squished two years of life into 98 pounds of luggage, strapped it to my back, and left everything else behind.
They said, “You will be a new person when you come back.” They said, “Have you lost your mind?” They said, “This is the hardest thing you’re ever going to do.” They said, “We love you, and we mean it.”
I am still in between it all.
In May, I moved out of a dorm room. I watched a piece of glass break, my own painted window pane shatter against the dirty laminate floor. I learned, then, how to let go. Everything lasts for just so long.
The continent itself doesn’t make this place different, but the people and the context, the puzzle pieces of life, they do.
It all becomes hazy. Flying over oceans and across time zones, not knowing what or when to dream: self-selective displacement. Have I lost my mind?
The hotel serves cole slaw next to injera, ravioli next to tibs, Coca-Cola next to Mirinda. We have breaks for shay-bunna in the morning and afternoon. Compared to the bitterness of the coffee, the crumbly marble cake tastes sweet.
This hotel isn’t wholly Ethiopian, or at least it doesn’t seem to be. There is internet access, silverware, and a line of intricately-carved wooden armchairs. The staff is fluent in every language of the world, or at least the ones that matter: Amharic, English, and Mandarin.
They said, “Don’t flush the toilet paper. The pipes can’t handle it.” I keep on forgetting, regretfully pulling up the handle and watching the water swirl. It comes back up, mixes, refuses to go where it should. It threatens to overflow.
I watched a maid leave her shift earlier. She changed clothes before she left, exchanged a t-shirt for a stiff, ironed Oxford. She walked out of the gate and disappeared into a whirl of moving vehicles, squatted shoe-shiners, and cracked concrete sidewalk. She went home.