Nine Months in Africa

I’ve lived in the womb of Ethiopia for nine months now, which means that soon, I should be born again.  In June, when I sucked my last breath of Carolina air, Dad’s cologne lingering on my collar, Mom’s lipstick smeared onto my cheek, my brother’s high-five and white-toothed smile still a recoverable memory, I really had no idea how much of a challenge it would be to re-learn a life.  I still have no idea.

What I wish I could tell people who ask how I’m doing is, it’s a lot harder than I ever expected and you probably expect now.  My feet crack and bleed along the edges.  My brows have mastered the act of furrowing.  My hair is falling out in unusual quantities.

I still wrestle to negotiate this culture with my own.  I’m living in this womb, nourished by the bloodsuck of teff and coffee, soothed by the perpetual sounds of God-calls and Teddy Afros.  But I’m kicking against the belly of Mother Africa like a most disobedient child.

My soul is tired a lot.  I am tired a lot.  I live in extremes: days brimming with fetching water, arguing over the price of onions, and conversing in broken plastic chairs over tea; days empty with piling dirty dishes, listening to the birds sing over rose cuttings, and watching re-run after re-run of the same mediocre television series on my laptop.

I dish it right back to the worst of them.  I’m not ashamed to say that the worst of them exist, though many of my colleagues argue that the fuck yous and ceaseless pleas for money are justified by poverty and ignorance.  I don’t believe that.

I smile a grimaced smile with the best of them.  And do the best of them exist!  Their eyes look hard into you, and their face makes a half-turn to meet your gaze.  They don’t apologize for this place.  Without shame, they celebrate the best of their culture: swinging hands back and forth in dance, ulating in praise at a wedding or church service, embroidering colors on delicate muslin scarves.  They study and work in earnest.  Even when met with blatant systematic injustice, by their own government, by foreign “aid”, by the dirt and dust and trash all around them, the dark memory of what used to be is left somewhere inside.  There is hope.  There has to be.

I have been told that the emotional connection between a mother and child after birth is the strongest possible human bond.  Heightened by hormones and physical exertion, the way the child meets with the mother in his first moments is utterly unmatchable.

There have been fleeting moments like this: moments when I thought I couldn’t love Ethiopia more despite all its shit; moments when I was close to calling this land my own.

Soon I will be delivered from this womb.  But will I ever be like them?  For now, all I know is, the world isn’t easy, but there is grace sometimes.  There’s always a risk in discovering life, no matter where you are.


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