It’s been a strange couple of weeks in Addis. The rainy season has hit town and everyday the black clouds will roll in, the wind will pick up, and people will scatter from the streets before the impending heavy rain and hail unleash their might. This downpour is usually short but its impact is lasting. It leaves roads flooded, drains overflowing, in fact I saw one road drain unable to do the one thing it is designed to do, to drain water away from the road, and instead it was shooting a continuous stream of water 1m into the air. Quite the spectacle for the crowd gathered around it!
What are usually little streams of trickling water become rushing rivers after the rains, and the construction site I walk through each day becomes a muddy field to slip n slide my way through. After the intense downpour, the rain eases off and people reappear out on the streets. Some people will still be wearing a plastic bag on their head (it’s amazing how cool some people make this look!), or hold a piece of cardboard to shelter themselves from the easing rain as they go on with their business, all whilst dodging puddles and mud, in all kinds of footwear, from gumboots to jelly sandals to bare feet!
Rainy season feels like an intense period of the year. And the skies of Addis can feel somewhat schizophrenic. The sun can be shining brightly in the morning and within moments, we need to turn on the office lights at midday because outside the rainy season clouds have decided to roll in for the afternoon and block the sun from shining through. And just when you think the weather couldn’t get more extreme, by late afternoon the schizophrenic skies can turn on a gorgeous sunset. I particularly like this time of day when I catch the light coming through the stain glass windows in my lounge.
My iPhone camera attempt to capture the stunning light streaming through the windows…
Just like the unpredictable weather, last week threw quite a few unpredictable moments at my workplace. One of our fellow staff members passed away suddenly. He was only 28. On the friday, he was in the office chatting with everyone, by Tuesday he was gone. They say it was malaria and something to do with his diabetes. The reaction of everyone at work was something I hadn’t been around before, or expecting. On receiving the news, many of my workmates burst into uncontrollable tears and wailing. I’d heard this was the common response to death within the Ethiopian culture but to be in the same room as people going through this, people who I knew and spent most days joking about with at work, was a really surreal experience.
Lunchtime antics with my workmates…
As a team, we all went to the family home to mourn with the father. It’s customary for the women to go into the room first and all the men stay outside. Once in the room, the wailing, tears and plea’s from the father started and went for about 40mins. Everyone was crying. The father was obviously (and understandably) distraught and for once I was glad I couldn’t understand what was being said. It was heartbreaking enough to be in that room, let alone listen to a father ask god why this happened to his son.
Only 1 day after this sad news, we heard that a workmate was involved in a car accident on a winding, hilly road out of the city. He and a fellow workmate who was a passenger in the car were unharmed, but they hit 2 pedestrians. Another car had run them off the road and into the people walking on the side of the road. If you hit a pedestrian here, you go straight to jail. The pedestrians were taken to hospital and a day later we found out they didn’t survive. One was a mother of 7, the other was one of her children. Again fellow workmates were crying upon hearing this news, both for their workmate in jail and the 2 lives taken too soon. And to complete the week, we received more bad news, this time the wife of one of the staff who work in the field had also passed away.
It was a strange feeling driving back in the van with my colleagues from the mourning of our workmate. The van was silent, except for the radio, which was blasting out various English and Amharic tunes. As the radio presenter started talking again, he delivered the news of Robin Williams. The presenter was speaking Amharic but bits of English were coming through and it was clear the news wasn’t good. At that moment, as we passed through the streets and traffic of Addis, listening to more bad news, the dark skies opened up and unleashed another downpour in what almost felt like the appropriate response for how the feeling in the bus was. As I walked home from the bus stop, the rain cleared and was then followed by a stunning sunset. Along the way, I passed some boys playing soccer in the street who were desperate for me to sign their soccer ball…I tried to tell them I’m not a professional soccer player but they didn’t seem to care! So who was I to deprive them of such an honour! It was a welcomed light moment after a heavy day. I do love the randomness of this city (most of the time)!
Other random moments in Addis include discovering ‘Safeway’ has expanded its operations to Ethiopia and observing interesting wedding photo backdrops (there were beautiful green rolling hills off the side of the road but these newly weds were clearly more interested in having the new road as part of their wedding photos)!
And just like the schizophrenic skies, life in Addis decided to flip the tables and deliver some spectacular stories of new life in the days following. I heard one fellow volunteer helped deliver a baby at the gate of her house! Some colleagues and I visited a maternal health clinic and as we toured the clinic, I could hear new cries coming from the delivery room where a baby was just born, and I had the pleasure of meeting one women who had safely given birth to healthy baby just hours before. I think this was Addis’ way of saying life kicks on…but to be honest, I will be happy when this rainy season passes and we get to the ’13 months of sunshine’ that most of the locals have proudly told me about!
Putting on the ‘scrubs’ before entering the Operating Room…and yes, that’s the delivery chair!!