The New Culture

The bus to Addis Ababa is almost retro inside, overly decorated with hanging tassles, flags of red, green, yellow and black, and a picture of Jesus Christ, hanging behind the driver’s seat. I jump into a ragged leather passenger seat to avoid the push and shove of the Ethiopian crowd behind, clambering onboard with bulky sacks of food, bundles of clothes and babes in arms.
The heat on the bus is clammy and the musty air is constantly being recycled by forty or so breathing bodies. I wanted to fill my lungs with the fresh air of the Simian mountains- I pull back my laced curtain and slide open the window. A slight gust enters the vehicle which tickles the hem of the curtain. I lean my head out and drink up new oxygen.
“Excuse me…”
I turn my head to face a young but sallow-skinned Ethiopian man.
“Yes?” I reply.
“Please could you close the window”, he asked, but it wasn’t a question.
“But why? It’s so hot.”
“Because disease can come in.”
I scan the bus; I see the elderly covering their faces in their swathes of robes, and mothers protecting their children with headscarves. Respectfully, I close the window.
Minutes later, in the damp haze, I hear a woman vomiting into a plastic bag. Those next to her begin to fuss. The intense heat inside the bus heightens the smell of her vomit, causing a chain reaction, which heightens my frustration. Please just let me open the window! Staring out, the cragged mountainous landscape moving past slows, and the bus halts. Immediately a swarm of thin ill-dressed locals surround the doors, like bees to honey, chattering and offering up their baskets of produce to sell. The doors clang open and everybody huddles off.
Those who were sick return with their arms filled with fresh oranges. The bus roars, and we carry on. The hot air sends me to sleep.

The smell of tangy citrus awakens me. I sit up and turn my head. I see the robed passengers peeling orange skin, only to then roll a small scrap between their fingers and place it precisely in each of their nostrils. I stifle a giggle. This was entirely alien to me.
“Excuse me, but why are they putting orange peel up their nose?”, I asked the sallow-skinned man.
“The peel stops them from being sick”.
I didn’t want to ask anymore, this was something I was never going to fully understand.

It was then, I realized the stark contrast between me and them. The extent of belief these people hold. Belief is a powerful force evident all over Ethiopia; the return of Haile Selassie, the existence of The Holy Grail, disease waiting by the roadside for an open bus window and stuffing peel up your nose to prevent sickness. Travelling is not about seeing all the wonders of the world, or taking photos of them. To me, simply riding a bus fully immersed me into raw Ethiopian culture.
And from escaping the working world in a western country, this was exactly what I wanted to experience.

L Lane

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