Maybe it’s the fact that my oldest son is the age that I was when I moved there, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been possessed by wanderlust lately, but I can’t get Ethiopia out of my mind. I dream of smelling eucalyptus trees, waking up at night to the sound of rain pounding on metal roofs, and seeing tukuls dotting the mountainous landscape. I also dream of having the freedom to travel to places I wasn’t able to see while I lived there due to travel restrictions imposed by war.
I lived in Addis Ababa from 1980 to 1983, while I was in middle school. During that time, Ethiopia was ruled by a communist dictatorship and was in the throes of a civil war. Due to a combination of drought and twisted political machinations, Ethiopia was also facing one of the worst famines in modern history.
I went to the International Community School. My best friend in sixth grade was from Palestine, her father involved with the PLO. Her little brother, who was eight years old and in my brother’s class, had already had military training. I also had a friend from Holland who lived with her family in the leprosy hospital where her father was a doctor.
My Greek friend Athena lived several houses down from mine. We spent a lot of afternoons after school “climbing” to each other’s house atop the ten foot concrete fences that separated the houses, being careful not to cut ourselves on the broken glass-topped walls. We sometimes forded the giant water towers that were a feature in every backyard in our neighborhood.
I could walk to school and did so occasionally, sometimes being catcalled from the back of army truckloads of young (even to my twelve-year-old eyes) Cuban soldiers.
While I lived there, I was more concerned about school and my friends than what was going on around me (probably a good thing, considering). I’m finally starting to read about Ethiopian history. I’m learning about the Dergue, or communist military junta that took over after Haile Selassie’s ousting. I’m also curious about the thousands of Russian and Cuban troops stationed there in the late 70s and early 80s.
Friends of ours have just relocated to Ethiopia with their eleven-year-old daughter. She’s going to the same school and also walks to school occasionally. I’d like nothing more than to take that walk with her, thirty years and a civil war later.