Tonight at 7:30, I’ll leave for the airport for the long trek home.
I’m ready to go home. I’m ready to throw my arms around my family. I’m ready to be in familiar places. I’m ready to be smiled at by familiar faces. I’m ready to sleep in my own bed curled up next to my husband. I’m ready to stroll down familiar streets without being branded “rich tourist”.
I look forward to that familiar moment when I walk down the stairs at the Winnipeg airport and I catch sight of my family in the crowd. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you’re grinned at by people who miss you – people who are eager for you to be back in their lives again.
Today I took one last walk down the streets of Addis Ababa. I did a little more shopping at a lovely store that’s as cheap as anything I’ve bartered for in the market and a lot more peaceful. When you’re not used to it, the marketplace can be an overwhelming place. I get a bit of a thrill out of it for awhile – everyone trying to sell you things while you make a sport out of getting the cheapest price. I’m actually fairly good at bartering (for a foreigner, that is), but I get tired of it after the initial buzz. Today I just wanted to know the price, pay it, and walk out with what I paid for. Today I didn’t want to let my white skin paint me as a “rich tourist with lots of money to burn on trinkets”.
Of course, walking to the store (which is about a kilometer from my hotel) still meant that I had to suffer as a target for awhile. Street vendors and beggars spotted me from a mile away. Even the fellow who’d taken me to the market last week (and extracted a handsome price for it, I might add) showed up for a second round, but I turned him down this time because I knew where I was going and didn’t want to pay an escort to get me there.
It can be completely exhausting, having to say “no” to every child that says “sista,” while they hold their hand out pleadingly, and “no thank you” to every person trying to sell you a map of Africa, a packet of tissue, or a pair of cheap sunglasses. I’m sure I said no 50 times on the way to the store. I made sure I had a bit of change in my pocket, but I only gave it away when there were few people around and I could target one mother nursing a baby in the dirt next to the sidewalk. I can afford to give a few Birr away, but I can’t give to everyone I see.
Poverty sucks. It sucks that there isn’t more balance in the world. It sucks that so many people are reduced to begging while we live in our comfortable homes. It sucks that I can’t solve it by handing out a few pennies to begging children on the street. It sucks that the world is such an imbalanced place where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
After buying my last souvenirs, I took a cab home. My energy had been drained and I didn’t want to face it anymore. I didn’t want to have to look into the faces of the people who send their children across the street to beg from me because the children have the most chance of working on my sympathies.
This afternoon, before I leave for the airport, I will seek refuge in my hotel. I will walk around the lush grounds, sealed off from the poverty perched just outside the walls. I will try not to feel guilty for enjoying this pleasure, because I know that I cannot solve the problems of Ethiopia, even if I walk outside the walls and give away every dollar I own.
When I go home, I will remember this place both for its breathtaking beauty and its gut-wrenching poverty.