I like my walk to and from work. Leaving the gates of my little sanctuary in the morning, I never quite know what to expect once I step out onto the streets of Addis. But what I do know is that I will encounter friendly characters and familiar scenes as I make my way to and from work.
There will be kids vying for my attention with calls of ‘hi, hi, hi, hi’ until they get a reply. Women in high heels or flimsy jelly sandals will be elegantly making their way through the muddy streets without leaving a trace of mud on their shoes, whilst my boots will be covered with mud and my pants will have mud flicked all the way up the back of them. There’ll be donkey’s chewing on any patch grass they find by the side of the road. The guys at the car wash will be busy washing cars (inside and out)! The shoe shining boys will have a good laugh at my muddy boots and without fail, women will be out steaming and bbq’ing corn on the side of the road as I walk home.
By far the most favourite thing about my walk to work is the familiar faces along the way. First up on my morning walk is the guy who is always out the front of the office at the end of my lane. He’s a big, serious, tough looking guy, and definitely not the most approachable looking person. Given this observation and not wanting to cause any trouble, the first few days that I passed him on my way to work, I just walked on by and avoided any eye contact. But then it just got weird every time I walked past him, to not even acknowledge him. So I thought surely he’s not as scary as he seems and after a few days I decided to shoot a little head nod his way. He returned the same. Phew. Next day, I up’ed the anti and included a smile and a bit of a dorky wave. Again, he returned the same (but a less dorky wave)! And by the next day we were at the friendly “hello, how are you, I’m fine (thanks be to god!)” greetings stage. #win.
Since this win I’ve been slowly developing similar relationships with other people I pass by on my morning walk. My biggest breakthroughs have been with security guards. They are usually older men who have quite a stern look and can be quite intimidating, especially when there’s usually 2 or more of them. But I’ve found that as soon as I shoot a smile their way, they shoot a big lovely smile back and don’t seem anywhere near as threatening as I first thought. There’s 2 guards I pass by each day who are the sweetest old men. They had new uniforms last week and were very eager to show them off.
But by one of my favourites exchanges each day is with one security guard who goes out of his way to greet me when he sees me coming. He gets up off his chair and walks up to the road that I am walking on to shake my hand and go through all the formalities of Ethiopian greetings with me. His smile is by far the biggest of all the guards I meet along the way to work. But just recently he’s decided we need to step this relationship up to kissing greetings…smooth!
Speaking of friendly, I must say I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of most people here. Addis is a bit of a city under construction at the moment and it’s not uncommon for a new road to appear, a road to disappear or the road I walked down yesterday to be completely dug up the next day. Last week I must have looked pretty confused as to how I would cross the railway they are currently constructing because there was now a massive pile of dirt and machinery cutting off my usual route. But about 20 construction workers on the other side of the railway saw the confusion on my face and waved me towards the new path that I never would have thought was a path. There have also been complete strangers loan me a helping hand when I’m slip sliding in the mud and about to fall flat my bum.
So whilst I seem to be getting to know the security guards and construction workers on my route to work, I’m not having the same luck with an old man who runs a little bookshop on the side of the road not too far from my house. I can’t even crack a slight head nod or little smile from him. Every morning I try but I get nothing! Nudda. Zilch. He’s proving a tough one to crack. He mainly sells student text books (all of which are in Amharic and mostly about mathematics) so I’m not overly confident I will be able breakthrough to him on the content of his books…but maybe I can win him over with these:
what did the zero say to the eight
~ nice belt
Why was the number 10 scared?
~ because 7 ate 9
Surely that kind of humour will win him over and skip us straight to the kissing greetings!