“Ferengi! Ferengi! China!” a group of three young boys, sporting sandals and western clothes try and keep pace with Jostein and I. I'm not sure if they actually think we are Chinese or have melted the term to apply to all foreigners. The ground is soft and at times muddy,. We hop over small make-shift bridges that gap streams of water mixed with less pleasurable things. We’re going for a run in the neighborhood behind the apartment complex. Jostein assures me this isn’t a slum but I can’t help but feel that in some ways it is. Lack of running water, house stacked by house made of shipping containers, sheet metal, & scrap. Narrow and packed streets. Walkways made by feet and not cement, no school or grass or park or public space. Strong smells of things acidic, rotten, fresh. Everywhere there are kids roaming & calling at us, little stores selling meat and water, smell of sewage material. One strong sign of change now turns our run into an obstacle course as thousands of grey bricks are being laid into the main thoroughfare. Jostein tells me the government is supporting this project, providing the material for them, which includes gravel to lay foundation and shovels to complete the job.
“Good job, keep coming!” I wave forward the surviving boy now a few hundred meters from where we found him. He gives a giant sigh, hands on his knees as the ground turns to incline and he trails off, yelling something to us as we continue on. I give him a thumbs up and he smiles. Running along the airport, I see lookout towers and accompanying small huts the soldiers must live in. A scarecrow stands guard outside. The setting sun nestles atop the next hill. I swear there is more incline than there should be. A group of construction workers listen to Amharic music and smoke cigarettes as they sit upon some wooden scaffolding. They whistle and call to us.
The feeling of being in a place so different from where you come, so utterly tangent to your experiences is refreshing. I remember summers spent of my teenage years playing and working outside collecting pollen, pine, sweat, and other collections from my surroundings. Nothing felt better than taking a full run at the swimming pool and breaking the surface of the water, letting the water rip away all the smuck. As a member of the ‘West’, I feel this same breaking of the surface. Layers of comfort & regulation that so easily sneak upon us, cover us in its excrements slowly and quietly, weighing us down without our explicit consent. We become so damn comfortable checking out Gmail accounts and complaining about that little thorn or stubbed toe. It’s not our fault; our nature is to adapt and take for granted. For survival, for regularity & sanity. However, just like that feeling after a overdue shower or a dip in the pool, taking another view of the world can be beneficial, therapeutic. I’m not in Ethiopia for a long period, nor do I pretend to be slumming it while I’m here. Yet while travelling my attempts always - if possible - absorb the local soil & life & feel. In the hopes that I may take some with me, to diversify my own crops.
My tactile observation has been grounding. Similar to how I feel after a few days in a national park, I'm starting to get that enveloping feeling of the unwound life. In contrast to the hectic and busy life on the streets here, over a week without many of the usual comforts of the west is relaxing. The pressure is off. No need to be hooked in and turn on to each update, newsfeed. That time away makes me ponder the importance we're putting on our digital life's in the first place. What's it really doing for us beneath the surface? Yeah I know, idealistic thinking is just that, and the world ain't changin'. In fact only going further in that direction, and that's alright. But these dives into something anew, I like them. I have the feeling I won't quite be ready to leave when the time comes.