“Just don’t look down.” Jostein tells me. No, we’re not on a cliff or in some perilous scenario. This is more dangerous. We’re 4 hours in on a 9 hour journey back to Addis, and we’ve stopped for lunch in a small town. What is he referring to, of course, is the hole in the ground restroom that are used by hundreds – if not more – daily. What really gets me about this place is that the adjacent corridor from these black holes are hotel rooms to rent. My imagination is expansive but it’s hard to picture a series of events that would end with me resting my head there. Before my thoughts can turn any worse, we make our way back on the bus. Not making the same mistake twice, we book ourselves into a larger (actual) bus and grab an extra seat for our bags. This was a good choice. But this entry isn’t about the lengthy bus ride and the agony that accompanies such journeys, but instead is about looking about windows.
Looking out windows is like going to an authentic Korean restaurant in New York. Or a great Chinese spot in Melbourne, or a Burger joint in New Delhi. Looking out the window gives you the real thing, without the commitment. You’re detached from the scene by a sheet of metal, momentum, and a few meters. Yet you get the picture, sound, and sometimes smell. I’ve never been so entranced by looking out the window as I have on this trip. It’s incredible, whether I’m in Addis - the heart of a 6 million person city - or the middle of tim-buck-too village with 100 people, there is something grabbing my attention. I told Jostein that while yes, clearly, I would always choose flying (as anyone would) as my superpower without much thought, the ability to freeze time would be invaluable on this trip. Every block in Addis or every mile outside of it there is an amazing photo. Why? To me, it is the sheer volume of activity that takes place outside here. Food is sold, livestock is moved, children play, fields are tended, old men sleep, women sell corn, young men talk shit, things are going on! Combine that with sights of a developing country beginning to industrialize; dirt roads meeting satellites on tin shacks, straw huts and Nike shoes and you have some great photos and experiences to capture.
There is some sort of honesty I see on this trip that I respect greatly. Often when I walk around London it’s usually unclear how the zoo of people are feeling, what they’re doing, who they are. A sort of blending takes place. There is clarity here. What it boils down to is that the people just... they are more here than they are in London. The saturation of their lives is turned up. It may be that I’m new to this culture and simply making more observations. Yet I can’t help but feel this transparency in the dozens of villages and towns we pass in the countryside, as well as across Addis Ababa. The authentic experience is what we all seek and pursue in some way or another. I’m seeing it here more than in my other travels. Or maybe, it’s been there all along, and I’m developing the tools to take it in.
Windows are the door to empathy. Throw it open when you go somewhere new and observe. Stare even, what are they going to do, run down the car? Let yourself take in the sensory experience of the place, and leave yourself out of it. Observing also helps pass the time when all there is to do is sit. On the drive back today I took notes for a few minutes on sights that passed me by:
-A woman in a pungent yellow burka bathed in morning light tends her longhorn cows
-A man leans on a clay house which has bright blue outlined windows. His green scarf is wrapped around his head and face, red trousers spattered with dirt and earth.
-a metal line span several meters between two gnarled and twisted trees, sporting a family’s laundry: deep red, blue, yellow and red.
-a young girl stretches, extending her arms with whip in one hand, as her donkey pulls her along on a wooden trailer with wooden, crooked wheels.
-two teen-aged girls tend a well, in full turquoise dress.
-an old man lays on a small hill, stomach to the sky as his donkeys sip from the stream nearby. His checkered blue and black scarf falls across his face and onto the earth beside him.
-a swarm of goats and horses close in on a straw hut, currently smoking from all pores of something sweet and thick.
-in the distance rolling hills expose sharp rows of brown and orange rock teeth, crowing the green valleys below.
-an elderly woman wearing all black hijab sells oranges and lemons, reflecting on the fabric across her arms.
-a cluster of villagers with colors and shapes taken from an abstract painting center around an event out of my vision. A constant stream of words and comments enter the bus.
-an elevated shack with tin roof covers several boys, who sit upon each ring of the wooden ladder above the ground.
-a brown clay home has been aerated with hundreds of holes. A short haired, slender dog stretches for the day across the darkened entry way.
-A school playground made of salvaged wood has been brightly painted. Each structure is in use by playful children. The earth around the net-less soccer posts is deeply worn. The wall of the school has the words ‘be the powerful change’ written across it.
I don’t remember how long I took notes for, but it certainly wasn’t for more than 15 or 20 minutes. Next time you go for a drive, think of what you see.