My airplane made three stops on the west coast of Africa before heading across the Atlantic Ocean for New York City. I was a close relative to a vegetable. If something happened, fine. If it did not happen, that was fine too. I was going to New York City because I wasn't going some place else. During the second stop on the west coast, Mozart's vibrancy poured from speakers on the plane; strains of a beloved sweet-of-all-sweets melody, long forgotten. Tears sobbed as I realized I had lost my place under the sun.
From New York City, we flew to Raleigh, North Carolina where Jesse put me in a hotel room and took a bus to Winston-Salem where his uncles lived, to buy transportation to drive us to Camp LeJeune where he was stationed. I couldn't figure how to use the telephone, but desk responded. I asked, "Is this water safe to drink?" I knew that was an inappropriate question but could not figure out what was wrong with it.
The next morning I walked the long hallway, leaning on the wall for balance, to get to the restaurant. As I sat down, a waitress placed a menu in front of me and explained, "We don't get very many female salespersons around here." I ordered four times what I could eat. It was my first American meal in over a year.
Jesse had obtained transportation! After we were established in his abode at Camp LeJeune, a friend from Eastern Shore of Virginia came to get me and I set about to get disability pay.
The head of Public Health on Eastern Shore, Dr. Thomas Simpson, who said he had taught Tropical Diseases at Johns Hopkins Hospital; who had been instrumental in building my health to specifications of Peace Corps - the first of five agencies I belonged to - now would not see me, sending me to a doctor who sent me to a doctor who said he was a neurologist: Dr. Robert Paschal. Peace Corps medical forms had been sent to him to fill out - I saw them on his desk - and I handed him a copy of the five page computer written medical report from Nairobi Hospital.
Dr. Robert Paschal was flippant, brusque. Before he examined me, he asked if I was going to sue.
"No. Besides, I'm offered disability.""Are you going to take it?""Yes.""Well, I'd like to have a little disability myself so I wouldn't have to work all the time." But he refused to talk to me about my condition, actually discrediting it with, "People do not survive Falciparum, therefore you didn't have it. I am writing you up as a psychiatric case for thinking you had it." My disability pay was denied.
I had sold out when I went to Africa because I planned on staying for years; maybe the rest of my life. I now had no income, no home, and savings were used up before I left Nairobi.
Friends on Eastern Shore took me in. Over a six month period I alternated between them.
Twice I slept in the back of a car. Four months after I returned to USA, I missed a connection between homes and rented an efficiency. In two weeks, a home became available but per agreement, my deposit was not returned and I sued. And won.
I began gaining weight and my skin no longer draped over my bones; much of my hair which had fallen out from medicine used in ICU, now was growing back in. My voice rose above a whisper, now, seven months after the ventilator tube was removed from my throat in ICU. But I began to deteriorate in other places. My right knee crunched when I moved it. Insteps became painful when I walked. I was unable to absorb ordinary conversation and lost what concentration I had.
My Representative, Herbert Bateman, encouraged me to make application for Social Security Insurance. And Widow's Benefits which I was denied when my husband died four years previously. I resubmitted and was sent to a psychiatrist who leaned back in his chair and bellowed at me! He asked if I thought people were doing things to me! I lied and said, "No," so he wouldn't report me as paranoid." I asked if Social Security Administration had sent him a copy of my medical report. After I gave him one, he recommended benefits but they were not forthcoming. Social Security said I was able to work. I told them that it would have been easier, quicker, and a lot kinder if I had died when I was supposed to have. They objected to my statement, mewling that they were doing the best they could.
Representative Bateman said I should resubmit to Social Security but I could not handle it. I needed a place to sleep; food to eat; now! I said I did not know that getting paid for Social Security Benefits was a game and I did not have time to play it. Belatedly, I realized that was the idea.
One and a half years after I returned to USA, I obtained a copy of Paschal's report. It was so embarrassing to read the inaccuracies so zestfully written that I could not bear to read much of it. Half a minute's perusal said that I "claimed" to have had cerebral malaria. That I was manipulative because I asked him to give me a hand to help me down from his examining table.
At first, he told me that cerebral malaria fries the brain. Since he knew that much about it, I reasoned, he would then see that I came through with neurological conditions. In retrospect, he meant that since my brain was not completely fried, that I had not had cerebral malaria. His partner absent-mindedly concurred; nodding in agreement and suggesting I take Benedryl and not come back.
I needed somebody. Anybody! Except establishment doctors who would sanction Paschal's decadence and clout to jerk me around, to humiliate, and lie and make it stick! When I asked them why they treated people in this manner, they replied with things like, "Don't rock the boat." They literally thought it was proper that doctors have the right to slander, abuse, and let people die; professionally, of course.
I turned to other important matters.
I asked Representative Bateman for all my reports per Freedom of Information Act [FOI] and he had a bunch sent; some which were not meant to be seen; sent by an aware insider of Labor Department. But the two main documents I wanted were not there; those which documented unmitigated injuries. It took another year to get those through another source.
Bateman's administrator, Ms. Beasley, told the Social Security office across the street to let me see my files. A little boy angrily stood over me as I flipped pages and got stuck on one which read, "She is a simple farm girl from Florida." I was stunned, lifted the book and pointedly read the statement aloud! And proclaimed,"There is nothing simple about me, Little Boy! Besides, I don't mind being a farm girl from Florida; it just isn't so. I'm from Florida decades ago, but I never saw a farm." He mumbled.
I indignantly asked, "Who is deranged enough to think this up?"Six months after I was back in USA without benefits, Jesse and girl friend drove me to North Carolina where I stayed with friends and another son put me on a plane for Florida where I stayed with a relative while looking for a doctor who would sign for me to obtain disability pay. I was sent to a psychiatrist/neurologist who had no knowledge of cerebral malaria but knew how to keep payment coming from the government. He was intent on making me confess that I was depressed and that was my problem. He told me to say that.
I wouldn't say it! When he finally discovered there was more than depression, he asked pertinent questions like, "What do you want?" I said, "My brain back. And my good balance. My concentration is broken and my right knee is in worse condition than when I came back from Kenya." Over a three month period at that doctor's office, I had a brain scan which showed functional damage; an EEG which showed tiny seizures. I was wired and shocked from knee to toe on the right side. And wired elbow to finger, also on the right side; both showing slow nerve reaction. Another test revealed short term memory loss. My long term memory was okay.
During this time I was given an appalling and irrelevant oral exam which lasted several days. I remember a couple of the host of irrelevant questions. Like, "Do you like kinky sex?" Even in my stupor, I wondered what my like or dislike for kinky sex had to do with the United States Government deliberately trying to let me die. I did not answer the question. In this country of supposed freedom of speech, it was none of their business.
The next irrelevant question was…"Why do people go to a doctor to get medicine?" Asked like I was a bouncy cute li'l kindergartner.
I absentmindedly replied, "So the AMA has a good place to peddle its drugs." I thought it was But she actually said, "Oh, I can't put that down. Is there another reason?""No, that IS the reason." I knew the questions were slanted but it had not occurred to me until now that my answers should be slanted too.
Several questions later, I cut in and said, "Oh, I know what you want me to say. 'It's to keep drugs off the street. But it isn't working too well.' " They all took that fact to mean that I was on illegal drugs!My doctor treated me for secondary depression, whatever that is, and issued Sinequan which drove me the rest of the way batty and I lost my home with my relative. She was very ill and couldn't handle me. I couldn't handle me! Shrink was angry that I quit taking it. When I realized again that I was in worse condition by going to see a conventional psychiatrist and said my son was coming to get me to take me home, shrink evenly asked, "What if I won't let you go?" My home was in Greenbackville, Virginia, a waterman's village along the coast of Chincoteague Bay in the Atlantic Ocean beneath the Atlantic Flyway where thousands of Canada Geese and Snow Geese over wintered and fed on acres of what was purposefully and joyfully left for them after the harvesting of corn fields. Then they migrated further south; or mingled with relatives at the National Wildlife Preserve at Assateague, two miles across the bay from me.
From my house it was a two minute walk to the newly restored marina which boasted harbor light and a slatted boardwalk encircling it. Slips fastened sleek sailing vessels rarely used by rich vacationers. and rusty, chipped-paint, beat up old craft used daily by the hardiest of all people: the watermen - who harvest seafood in any weather from the bottom of the ocean.
All craft were christened with emotions and loves: MISS BETTY. NORTH STAR. SEA WHORE. EXPLORE. To name a few. Crab pots with commercial, or sealed plastic, milk jug floats were neatly stacked beside them on the slatted walkway.
My backyard opened into a swamp. At high tide and full moon, bay water came up on the main road. Tadpoles grew in the filled gullies. Cattail grew beside a creek which fluctuated with the tide in my yard. Stork-like stilted water birds pecked through my yard, their knees opening backwards from mine.
With my restored disability pay I could stay in a place long enough to gain enough health to return I thought!But I had only gotten started. With each segment of progress came new depths of decadence! Now I could not get my checks sent to me. They were sent to my ill relative's house in Florida, for eight months. I finally called Department of Labor and a lady exclaimed that she didn't know what I was complaining about; that a client just called to thank her for sending her check. I didn't say, "So would I if got one." They did not accept certified mail.
They skipped a month.
They sent me a form for bank deposits but did not use it when my banker sent it in.
I was visited by FBI. One of them knocked on my door and I opened it. He flashed his badge and shouted "FBI!" I said I didn't want him in my house. He said he had to come in and ask me some questions. I asked him if his boss really and truly sent him to ask dumb questions. He nodded.
I asked him if he really expected me to believe he drove 100 miles from Norfolk to ask me about a kind letter I wrote to President Gorbechev, hoping he liked us, when he first visited Washington, DC.
Somewhere along the line of 20 minutes of astonishingly convoluted conversation, he asked me if Gorbechev had come to see me. I bit my tongue to keep from saying… "Oh sure! Didn't you see it on the news? He and his entourage caught a shuttle from DC to Salisbury, rented Hertz cars and motorcaded down Eastern Shore to my house." "Miss Effie closed the post office in celebration, and her husband, Mr. Milton, made his famous family recipe of clam stew from clams which grew right there in the bay," pointing to Chincoteague Bay, where I stuck my big toe in every day.
"Charlotta and Richard brought lawn chairs for everybody and Laura did a serious reading on "The local fire department sent a great western string band over and it roundly played "Old Joe "It really was a blast and President Gorbechev enjoyed it so much he said he was coming back."That's what I wanted to say to such an ignorant question. But there were enough problems already before getting mixed up with another high IQ robot.
Neither did I want to impugn any of my fine neighbors; they would then be on suspicion to be harassed and slandered. I simply said "No," and studied him for signs of life. He left, but his kind harassed me for several decades.
The first harassment had already been in effect for three months. I discovered it when my phone was restored untapped that day and my mail resumed delivery.
After the FBI man left my house in Greenbackville, I drove to Pokemoke City just across the Maryland line to get a hamburger. When I got inside the McDonald's there were six strange men standing around grinning. They were clad in their idea of fishermen: color matched sports clothes and new felt hats with lures stuck in the hat bands. I studied them while pacing in front of them, stifling an embarrassed grin.
Fact: There are no commercial fishermen on Eastern Shore. There are commercial Watermen. Watermen do not fish. They do not use lures. They work a dredge on a ship which reaches to the bottom of the ocean to pull up clams. It is a grossly dangerous job and very poorly paid so Watermen do not walk about grinning. And they are too underpaid to have much more than a wash one and wear one… forget a fancy felt hat with a band around it to hold lures they don't use.
As I went to get in line for a hamburger, one of the agents beat me there and turned around to say, "I "Good for you. Why?""He replied, "I showed the government how to make a better bomb." Other harassments I recall.
I learned to ride a bike again, a favorite part of my life. I was always happy when riding my bright yellow bike with the white helmet, tinted goggles, fingerless gloves and pied riding clothes. I wore normal shoes because now I frequently fell and did not need to be secured to the bike.
One day as I rested at a park, a new vehicle drove in and I moaned, "Oh No! Not another one of He got out of an old station wagon, keeping his eye on me as he groped for his bike in the rear of it. It was obvious that the last time he handled a bike, it was a trike. He rolled it right over to me and asked which way was Ft. Worth.
"It's that way - pointing - "Seven miles on the trail. Want to go with me?" He did.
But he could not ride on the right hand side when coming to a hill even when I mentioned it to him and a sign suggested it. He could not make conversation. He rode with his knees out! What a clutz! How embarrassing! I quit talking and tried to distance myself from him.
But on the way back he said, "You aren't handling your bike too well.""Nah! But it's better than one would expect. I had a disease which bungled me up."Then he suddenly blurted! "What did you do with the letters the government sent you?"I smilingly gloated, like the spider in the web which finally induced her malicious prey into her quarters. "I kept them. And copied them. Every scrap. And sent full copies to Tanzania, Kenya, Florida, my Senator Lloyd Bentsen and my Representative Joe Barton, to name a few places." Instantly, he stood up on his bike's pedals and pumped furiously all the way and never looked back!Weeks later, as I ran off the trail ramp near me, an old man began talking to me as he walked in the same direction I was going, his back to me. Something about a hot day. I agreed it was an unusually scorching day.
By this time we were at his stylish late model sports car with his foot on it as he bent over to retie his shoes laces. He said he walked here daily to keep himself in shape. I didn't say, "I ride daily. I never saw you." He added, "Today I walked to Hulen Bridge," pointing in the wrong direction. His city dress shoes were spotless and his dress shirt with tie had not one spot of sweat.
I said, "Well, I'm so proud of you," and shook his hand. He preened and drove off.
They say that once a person gets on their list, they are on it for life. Decades later I wonder if I am still on their list…therefore I don't know if I'm paranoid or not.
The venue for my Federal court hearing to obtain the Lump Sum Settlement they offered was changed from the usual location to one further away and upstairs with no elevator. My lawyer thought aloud as he drove us to the new location, wondering why the venue was moved…like for something legal and credible. My liaison lawyer was young, I was his first case in this vein and the only one which ever existed. He was conscientious and had my case outlined to the nth degree according to the rules given us for the Lump Sum Settlement I was offered. He had left no stone unturned. But I was older, very experienced and alert, having absorbed the shock of US Government deliberately leaving me for dead. After much thought on what kind of person it takes to intently leave their fellow person for dead and justify it in their mind, I said, "There will be no elevator and someone will run out on the landing to see how I use the stairs, not offering a hand, just standing there like a Gump." That's what happened. Along with the long years of being tailed and harassed, I had my phone removed. Then, my computer began getting un-usable replies to questions I had asked. I often pictured the anonymous, hidden, intruders behind their secret, closed door; paid for with taxpayer money. What kind of expression did he/she wear? What would one of their kind say if I possibly got them in a conversation: "I thought you would like to know about the deathly error in the Peace Corps Medical Manual [1986]." "Well… I don't want to know. I'm busy. I'm helping to instigate three or four more wars down the line so we can kill MORE people. Don't rock the boat!" In the end, what had happened was that I and my attorney were goosed along to get the "Hearing" captured, closed, and sealed into Department of Labor's chambers and never to be reopened by legalquestions such as "Why was she not heard?" My own Congressman has sat on my case since 1989.
By this time in 1991, Senator Lloyd Bentsen was providing solid help bimonthly - literally everybody else I had visited having told me not to mention this again - and twice my surface mail to him was confiscated.
I developed my own communications systems.
When I had served ManKind freely for so long; when what I had paid in for 27 years to be there when I needed it, was withheld; when I won the Lump Sum Settlement offered by The United States Government if it did take ten years - and they changed their rules after the fact - something snapped within me. It became more perplexing when later I was told that Congress had passed a law against the giving of lawsuits won against the government. So why was I given the rules? A United States prosecutor spent 83 million dollars on a personal matter, turning it into porn and spreading it throughout the entire world. Congress needed just one day to declare war - that is, to purposefully murder and destroy. Later, the same senators were smilingly and handsomely giving their guesses on TV as to when bombs would start dropping on Iraq, while paid up benefit accounts were ignored at home. It says what our leaders were doing to us. Where was the chief prosecutor, now that people were being murdered in Iraq for whatever reason they called it. Why was food aid to other countries sent across the ocean, while our own starved from lack of their paid up pensions? Isn't this Genocide which Americans decry as a heinous atrocity committed in Third World Countries? There are so many contradictions that make up my civilization. Perhaps the most basic one is an organized religion quandary. "Over 80% of Americans profess belief in God and a religion. you know. "Love your fellow person." While "80% of Americans demand the Death Penalty!" What do these statistics explain? Whatever happened to the dictum on the tombstone of a soldier returned home in a body bag: "Make Love Not War." Did you ever know of a loving person starting a war? There is a huge gap between what we are taught as children in Sunday School - taken to church to specifically learn - and what we are expected to know when we are suddenly shafted because of exposure to unusable rules. The teaching suddenly changes when we find ourselves in a legal quandary." "You should have known better. You're a Big Girl now!" However did such an accepted contradiction take hold? What would happen if we made a specific choice between loving our fellow person or of being a liar - so that we would quit straddling the fence.
In 1989, 2 ½ years after I came back to USA, after I had been to a large number of AMA doctors, I knew I was dying. The only recourse I had was to do the cycle of establishment doctors again, as I died. I did not know about Alternative Medicine, the branch of medicine which healed you. But friends on Eastern Shore warned me against going to the only hospital in reach, saying I would die quicker there.
They had kept me in their homes as I awaited promised monthly pay, and now it was time for my largest Lucky Star to appear… my sister Francey, called to ask about my condition.
She had just gotten past her own insurmountable problems, just enough to be able to call and she said I should move to Ft. Worth where she could keep an eye on me. I moved from Eastern Shore to Ft. Worth.
In a matter of weeks I located a doctor who was highly recommended by all thoughtful persons I asked. I was already spastic on my right side and by this time my right leg dragged, my right eye was crossed. My right arm was not useful. I could not hold conversation.
The doctor had a list of degrees which provided hidden-from-me ability as I was unfamiliar with the terms. Voluminous plaques on his wall included certificates of Doctor of Osteopathy [DO], Master of Public Health [MPH], Fellow American College of Preventive Medicine [FACPM], Fellow American Osteopathic College of Preventive Medicine [FAOCPM], and Doctor of Homeopathy [HD].
What was not hidden from me was that the entire treatment was between me and this doctor. A treatment which was currently needed, rather than what the doctor once read in his old training school manuals which included a Desk Reference of pills to sell.
That he was a happy person; he laughed a lot. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, turning my attention away from my misery. Along with his degrees, and happiness which became infectious, he used the Chinese medical system which included herbs and acupuncture. Later, I used food supplements including vitamins and minerals, and when I was able, resumed my old habit of "eating to live," not "living to eat." I emphasize "When I was able," because I was well into months of treatment before I made a statement of my own volition. I had been that close to total loss of my faculties. It was gently brought to my attention when this doctor chuckled and quietly said, "I didn't know you could talk." He manipulated internal organs, you know, what makes us or breaks us. He prompted ordinary conversation, positive conversation, and worked around me in the middle of his office. For over two years I had drifted from day to day in a fog, trying to find a way to help myself, but being shunted from office to office and having no idea what to do about it. Now, this doctor caused me to center myself… my life.
He prompted conversation on how I could again take responsibility for myself. There were no inane questions about my last doctor; no giving approval for old records being sent, being passed around, never being through, and not getting something done.
He said things like, "You are grieving," not "You are a label." Nor, did he say things like, "People don't survive Falciparum, therefore you didn't have it." Nor, "You are a psychiatric case for thinking you survived Falciparum." Labels were not the issue. My thinking, or the lack of it, was the issue.
I was moving up the line from, "I am what I eat," to, "I am what I think" which included "I am what I eat," to realizing I was a result.
Eventually, I saw that habitual anger was a habit, that angry thoughts, and grief, controlled my thinking and therefore my body and health - via internal organs - and affected my road to recovery. How good overcomes evil became plain to see. It's inside the person. It feels good to think and do good. That's how good overcomes evil.
There were several single statements he made, any which could have knocked me over with a feather but the one I remember is, "You can get the same thing done better, if you are not angry." It was one of those sage pieces of advice which after thinking about the simplicity of it, one explains with compunction, "I knew that!" I was with this doctor for a year - for a total of seven treatments - when he said, "I can do no more for But, he had given me so much to think about, that I discovered a decades later that I was still reaching I left his treatment in high spirits, good humor, and with plans. Life was laughable,I walked and talked with a degree of dignity, and made much conversation! I was ready to resume For months after I was brought back to USA so ill, I spent the time flat in bed, being too weak to be up for more than an hour or less, per 24 hour day. Gradually, over a long period of years, I settled for lasting most of the day, with frequent rest periods.
There was always monthly haranguing on the part of my government, and monthly persistence and accuracy on my part. But, in four years' time, I was secure in the promised monthly disability pay which turned out to be permanent and total. I again applied for my paid up Social Security old age benefits and this time was given the convenient reply! "You are getting disability pay and cannot get social security benefits at the same time." Although I couldn't get my social security benefits before obtaining disability pay either. The double talk, the hate, the "I'm Bigger Than You Are" inherent theft, made me ill too, since I had always lived in good conscience. Neither could I get housing on my disability pay. Horrifically, I found that my credit was no good! Unknown to me, the United States government had put their unpaid bills on me when it sent me for medical tests it did not heed. Now I had a good idea of what Hermann Hesse meant when he said, ''The way to innocence, to the uncreated and to God leads on, not back to the child, but ever further into sin, ever deeper into human life." The disease was catastrophic to every facet of my mind and every aspect of every cell which my body was made of, having lost eight sound teeth during the six week ordeal of ICU. After five years of trying to recuperate my health, I learned to walk and talk with a degree of dignity, and strived for the stated Constitutional Right to be heard. Their several page denial referred only to "Did United States properly deny the Lump Sum Settlement," it offered me. And added, "It is not in your best interest to get it." By this time, Representative Joe Barton's office had taken control of my Office of Workers Compensation case [OWCP], making me feel that the matter was well cared for. But the ostracization was overwhelming. I gave away everything I owned to an orphanage and bought a one way ticket back to Africa.
This time, Lufthansa flew me non stop from Ft. Worth/Dallas to London, and then I went south, nonstop to Nairobi. As I sat beside a window in the early morning dark, terrain was barely visible. Obscure regions carried excrement of desolation. Heinous sloughs writhed murkily into varicose veins. Wild animals which lurked for food during the night were about done; they which would lurk during the day were about to start. Maybe it was a potpourri of imagination and survival. Whatever it was, it was what I wanted.
Excitement and anticipation stirred within me as the landing gear touched down. All of my worldly possessions were in the belly of this plane.
I was returning to say "Thank You," to the staff of Nairobi Hospital, as if words were adequate. I was returning to live. just to live and enjoy… and to teach agriculture if anyone wanted it. I was ready to serve whoever wanted my expertise. Now my life came together in one joint! Seven weeks later, as I sat at the last available table of the out door restaurant beneath Nairobi's Fedha Towers, I studied the menu. I was comparing words; figuring out the Kiswahili word for "hot dog," Kiswahili on the left and English on the right, when a man suddenly appeared beside my table asking if he could use the empty chair. "Certainly," I replied, and continued decoding the menu.
The man ordered in Kiswahili. I said, "I'll have a hot dog please," and he translated my order to the He was dark-skinned but not black. His fine facial features surrounded sensitive eyes to create a pleasant expression. He was slender and handsome; his mannerisms loose. I was comfortable. He countered my tacit curiosity with, "I am Hassan." "Pleased to meet you, Hassan. I am Carmen," I replied.
And we shook hands across the table.
In USA, I didn't eat hot dogs. I had not eaten junk food in years but now I was salivating for a hot dog and this was the only place I knew which served them.
But there were no chopped onions, no mayo smeared inside the bun, no tangy mustard, no ketchup, no relish. And the bun was rigid, same as the teeny weenie hidden inside it. I ate it for psychological reasons! Hassan and I exchanged conversation between bites of food, both of us eager to relate to the other. It "I am from Australia," he said.
As I thought to myself, "I didn't know Australians had his features and coloring," he was saying, "I am from Somali with Australian citizenship." "What do you do in Australia?" I asked, my curiosity over riding.
"My wife and I head ORA: Ogaden Relief Association. I recruit people to work in the Ogaden.""What's the Ogaden?" I asked.
"It's the southeast section of Ethiopia. It needs help because of the long drought. We are soliciting "Where is Gode?" I continued.
"It's beside the Webe Shebele River near the center of the Ogaden, in SE Ethiopia," he explained.
I showed him my credentials which satisfied him and said, "You have one volunteer after I see your credentials." We shook hands on that too.
Two days later, another man appeared at my outdoor table. "This is Mohamed," Hassan explained. "He will escort you to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia." I liked Mohamed immediately, too. His gaze was level. Composure was imminent. His western clothes hung loose on his lean tall frame. He said nothing, standing beside the table, nodding his head to me in recognition.
I spent the next few days obtaining a visa to Ethiopia; buying odds and ends not to be found in a newly liberated country, and Mohamed and I bought airplane tickets; the latter presenting problems with the size of my purse: we had to pay in US dollar but change was given in shillings we couldn't use because we were leaving the country.
"Is that all right?" the clerk asked knowingly, as she handed me the change.
"No." I answered knowingly. "But we'll take it."It was impossible to always have the correct change on hand.
The next few days were also spent in saying goodbyes. A couple weeks ago I had taken a taxi to Nairobi Hospital to visit Dr. David Silverstein, the American doctor who brought me back to life. He had apparently stayed with me in ICU during particularly vicious periods so as to intervene when death throes were imminent.
Also, there were male doctors of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and a female doctor of Kenya. There were nurses from three floor levels I wanted to greet, two ICU nurses, and two aides whose job it was to stick to patients just out of ICU like they were welded to them. There was the entire physical therapy staff from Scandinavia on the first floor. But it was not possible for them to be located so I met briefly only with Dr. Silverstein. I was grateful to him for having saved my sanity, adding that saving my life was coincidental.
When I was in ICU, the administrator of Nairobi Hospital, Jeremy Watkins-Pitchford, had visited me daily for the six weeks to talk to me to keep my brain functioning. The first day I was propped up after ICU, Jeremy visited me and told me what he had done. My thin frame hoarsely whispered, "What did I say?" Jeremy had exclaimed in mock exasperation, "You didn't say a damned thing!"But we had corresponded all the years since that time; a few weeks ago I visited in his home and later, he and friend treated me to a succulent fish dinner with colorful vegetables and warm bread rolls, all beneath the breezy plantation porch of the fashionable Norfolk Hotel. They said they were proud of me for having survived the dire ravages of Falciparum. I said I was proud too.
One day, I went to an agency office to see nurse Maggie from Wales. She had visited me daily the following two weeks out of ICU. But she wasn't in. Instead, a pretty lady dressed in heels and hose and a stylish ruffled dress, rushed in to see me from a room in the hallway.
She said, "Maggie isn't in but I heard you announce your name and I wanted to see you. You don't know me, but I am Ruth, one of your ICU nurses at Nairobi Hospital." And she hugged me. I didn't know what to say to a person of such great mental strength; one of the many who had cared for me with devotion in spite of the hard times I gave them. When I awoke, I didn't know where I was but I knew I had been loved back to life and that I was safe; and now I knew Ruth.
Then there was Jean, psychiatric head nurse from west coast USA, who had quit her job to come to Nairobi and make her way by teaching a natural diabetes' remedy specifically, and nursing in general. After she had a bout with malaria, at which time her landlord tried to get her to move out before she died on his hands, and after a long spell of making hand crafts to sell for minimal survival, she was invited to live in an elaborate mansion with heated swimming pool, alone, and free. The rich Indian from India never visited his home. Later, she obtained her coveted teaching position in a large hospital.
Through the grapevine I left a message: "Jean, please come. I am leaving Nairobi." She appeared the next morning with valise in hand to show me samples of the crafts she made.
After I appraised them, I wanted to buy. But she said, "These are not for sale." My face fell and she added, "But I'll give you one. Your pick." I begged, "But I need two, so the lavenders and blues blend well"As her box of stringed necklaces lay open on the table, she took several away and said, "Okay, choose from these," and I tenderly placed them in safe-keeping. We exchanged addresses and said our good byes.
I had accomplished the only required sightseeing on my agenda: the life size display of Early Mankind. I asked Norman, a young Kenyan who kept the boilers hot in my hotel, to escort me to the museum. I was carrying a business card from Ft. Worth to give to Dr. Leaky, the internationally known paleoanthropologist and left it with a guard at the door.
The display was behind a glass wall in the rear of the museum. It was a display of a family gathering food. They were looking in bird nests for eggs; searching for anything in useless places. I studied postures, attitudes, capabilities, levels of awareness of each person. They were nude with western morals' vital parts missing and unable to stand entirely erect.
Nondiscriminatory, their foreheads sloped back. Their degree of intelligence didn't focus past what they were doing. Then, I remembered who they reminded me of and as soon as I got back to my hotel, I sent postcards to pertinent individuals in US government which said, "I saw you today in the display of Early Mankind." Africans are a social people and we exchanged numerous social-mores conversations.
My favorite spot to meet them was at the end of the hotel restaurant where two black stuffed armchairs were placed side by side in front of the TV which aired the African version of CNN periodically.
One day as I sat, a lady plopped down beside me. She said "I am Joyce. How are you?"I replied, "I am Carmen." And added a phrase I had just learned. "What can we do for each other?"She instantly replied, "We can love one another!"Caught by her rapid candor and her apropos reply, I was lost to conversation but she continued… "I have a brother in New York City who has an illness. I don't know what it is but he is taking medication for it." I asked what the symptoms were and she described epilepsy. We talked for an hour and I left but wasn't done. There was something about this lady… Later that evening I knocked on her door and was invited in by one of her two non-English speaking friends. It was a rare cold night in Nairobi and she was in bed beneath blankets, to stay warm. She invited me to sit on her bed, facing her with my legs crossed, "So we can talk," she added. And she took a blanket off of her shoulders and wrapped it around mine.
I began, "Joyce, you know things. And I have a nagging problem I would ask you to listen and tell me about it." And I sat on her bed with my legs crossed for two hours as I talked about what troubled me and as she talked about what she knew. It ended with, "Your survival of Falciparum malaria was not a miracle. Your deceased mother was watching over you. You must thank your mother. Neither of you would let the other die until your business was completed." Then I recalled a dream I'd had three years previously. "I was myself lying on a lounge chair in an empty hospital room - talking with my daughter who in real life was also deceased - when I saw Mother through the hall way windows striding in to see me. She was beautiful. She was gentle. She was at peace. I watched her as she gracefully and graciously strolled along. " "She wore a pretty dress with gathered skirt, soft leather shoes. Her dark brown hair had soft waves in its left side which hung down to her shoulders. She came to the door and waited for me to accept her, to invite her in. My daughter stood aside." "Mother looked at me expectantly. I looked at her but said nothing and she left as gracefully as she came. She had come and I ignored her. I had thought, 'It's not time, Mother. I don't forgive you.' But I knew she would come back." But after the times Mother timidly asked for forgiveness. after all the years she lived with anguish which my resentment engendered, I knew I was the guilty one. The Mother I saw in my dream was the Real Mother. What happened to change it during her life on earth? Whatever did I mean by, "It's not time to forgive?" When the intense and cathartic conversation was over, I became ravenously hungry and ordered for all. We shared and I asked Joyce when I would see her again. It turned out that she and her friends were going back home to Uganda the next evening but our visit was over anyway. She wouldn't let me thank her for the coveted insight she gave, raising her hand to stop me. I watched her all the way to the corner of the block as she and friends were escorted when she looked back to wave to me, and left. Neither will she write. Apparently our entire business was completed in that one evening. Another important sociality involved a family which stood out among the hotel guests. I had never seen such dark yellow skin. Someone said they were Indians from Madagascar, not referring to Indians from India. I sat down beside the man in the lobby. He wore loose pants with a white shirt and well groomed shoes and for lack of something else to say, not knowing if he spoke English, and being curious about him, I started conversation with, "I like your shoes." He quickly turned to me and replied, "Thanks. I got these brogans at Sears." Astonished at this profundity, I asked where he was from.
He said, "I live in Canada. I'm on leave for two weeks from the computer company where I work. I come from Madagascar originally but it's been seven years and I want to see my mother and her to see my children. I sent a plane ticket and she is coming here." He asked me what I was doing in Nairobi. I said I was looking for a place to light. That I taught basic agriculture by using what was handy, but Kenyans I was taken to see were not interested. He said I should go to the Madagascar Consul at the Hilton Hotel; that Madagascar was looking for a person to work with a new shelter for homeless children. And his grandmother had just died and I would be welcome to use her home. He added, "And it is comfortable." I went to see the consul the next day and gave him the man's business card. He knew him. And I told him what I wanted to do; that I was looking for a place to do my thing - free on my pension. When I finished, he said nothing, just stared at me.
I asked, "Did I say something wrong?" He said, "No, I've never heard such an offer and I'm making sure I heard you right."But it was nearly Christmas and he would not return to Madagascar for six weeks. That was too long for me to wait around to see what might happen. Perhaps another time.
I had already tacitly said good bye to the streets of the city. My experience had been that there was plenty of food in Nairobi but there was no system to make any available to the hordes of homeless adults and children.
One little girl, about twelve years old, snagged me in front of City Market. She was barefoot and dressed in dirty rags, her black hair uncombed. She wore a baby strapped on her back and was leading a two year old by hand. She asked me for "Shilingi, Mama." However, it was not safe for me to stop and open my purse, so I said, "Hapana," and went into the market to haggle prices of avocados and mangos, walking past a bold-lettered sign tacked to the side of the entrance reading ABSOLUTELY NO SPITTING! I looked for the little girl when I came out, heavy change ready in my pocket. I couldn't find her but a six year old boy knew what I wanted, pointed to her and took me to her. Her hand was still out. She walked with her hand out. She stood with her hand out. As I dropped coins into it, I examined her up close. Her eyes were glazed. She was not aware that I had donated to her.
The boy began: "Taphadali Mama, shilingi moja qua mkete."I said nothing; left hurriedly. There were too many! There were not to be choices of those to donate to.
But I couldn't shake him. He quietly and earnestly walked in back of me to one side, very politely begging for his life over and over; "Taphadali Mama, shilingi moja qua mkete." I ducked into a store. He waited and followed me when I came out. We walked down Tubman Road and neared a fish and chips shop when he came to my hand and said, "Hapa, Mama." There was no one else in sight and I agreed. But as we walked in, two little boys materialized, ages four and two, and followed us in.
I got in the wrong line but eventually was asked what I wanted. The little boys stood patiently and grimly. "Three orders of chips and sausages, please. How much?" "32 shillings," the clerk said. As he eyed the little boys the three orders were wrapped together in one newspaper sheet, and I was charged 21 shillings.
I turned to give the hot food to the oldest boy, intending to say, "You must share with the younger boys," as I emphasized with a finger. But not remembering the Kiswahili word for "share," I faltered.
A lady who was standing in line dressed in a black, knee length skirt, white silky blouse with pearl necklace and black pumps, stepped out of her place in the long line. She leaned over the boy and tapping him on the shoulder, told him to share, in Kiswahili, and thanked me in English.
The six year old boy held the newspaper-wrapped meal in both hands, looking at it with reverence. The younger boys' eyes were fastened on it. You would have thought a piece of God was wrapped up in it! The boys went outside where the two smaller ones sat on skinny water pipes running alongside the ancient building, their eyes still fastened on the bundle. As the newspaper was unraveled on the sidewalk, steam rose with the aroma of fresh, hot food. Through their matted eyes, snotty noses, and grimy hands, they peacefully and smilingly ate with dignity, forgetting me.
It took so little to effect a smile, a glow, contentment, satisfaction, peace towards all. If there was not plenty of food, there was enough. What happened to it? I went to my room and tearfully reflected. Who is Everybody's Brother's Keeper? Does it mean to give, or to teach how? Why not some of each? In any event, there were inexhaustible hordes of hungry, sick, thirsty, and homeless, universally, than those who would help. What to do? And so the boys became another tacit statistic in the history of Mankind.
The hotel owner asked me to go to his farm on the outskirts of Nairobi and help him with tomato problems. We left the next morning near lunch time in an ancient and rattle trap red pick-up truck which reeked of gas fumes. We rode for miles through vast coffee plantations with straight rows rising and disappearing with shallow hills. After a couple of hours or so, we arrived at Masai Territory - which compares with US Indian Reservations.
We went into a meat shop where a dozen goat carcasses hung from the ceiling with swarms of flies buzzing about. The desired meat was not there. We went into a concrete building canteen, chose a place to sit, and my host ordered several bottles of beer for himself and after much nudging, I said I'd take an orange drink.
The view wasn't conducive to my appetite or to conversation, so I left to sight see. A block's distance away on the range, Masai men carrying staffs and wearing work-a-day brown robes, were herding goats into wooden pens which were stobbed out on hard red clay. Those goats left the range in 6 x 6 x 6 foot, once-upon-a-time-painted white boxes, but now were mud-spattered and marked "MEAT," in bold red block letters which the hotel owner bought for his hotel restaurant and shoved onto his pick up truck. I quickly became vegetarian; recalling the joke about the city man who watched a cow urinating while being milked. He said, "I'm not going to drink milk anymore. I will eat only eggs from now on." I wandered into a huge, concrete, round building with raised dome. A concrete, round slab centered the dirt floor and inside walls held crooked rooms, big enough for a table and four chairs with men and women sitting in them drinking bottled beer and eating meat off of large, long, bones. The meat had been roasted in an out door oven, fired by heat from the end of a 20 foot log of 10 inch diameter, pushed in from behind as needed.
I stood in the end of a hallway in the round building, next to the edge of the round slab, when six scantily clad youths prowled in from an inside entrance on my left. At the same time, six fleshy and modestly clothed young ladies writhed in from an inside entrance on my right. They all met in the center of the round slab, their music a slow rhythmic drum beat. The drum was crafted of white and brown mottled goat skin pulled taut over the ends of a cylindrical and hollow vessel, the raggedy ends pulled together with raw hide.
Diners ate and watched. No one spoke, seemingly out of ennui, as dancers met in the center of the slab, not touching; male bodies agile and thin; female bodies chunky, their full breasts bobbing up and down beneath western blouses. Unimpressively and unimpassively they executed a tribal dance, an authentic tribal dance; much different from the advertised authentic tribal dances where the exciting floor show belted out old and modern songs with African beat and saxophones blaring from six 3 foot speakers in a disco near City Market in Central Nairobi.
I wandered back into the concession stand where my host was still swilling beer on a table whose missing leg was propped up on a half built, crumbling mud wall. A man was urinating on the other side of a low, painted, stacked up concrete block latrine wall. Women and girls strolled about sullenly.
I wondered if they had conceded to Female Genital Mutilation. Or if it had been forced upon them. Or if the girls had subjected themselves to the sadistic ritual so they could get a man! One can wonder out loud what kind of man wants an injured and bleeding woman who may not even be healed… the open wounds still throbbing and bleeding as he takes his "pleasure." The men ask "What's wrong with that?" In some areas of the world the practice is rife but gradually toning down. Kenya's churches offer token FGM. Egyptian law said FGM must be surgically done in the hospital. Along with urgent teaching of local NGOs, Ethiopian doctors gave reports and medical statements, Ethiopia put actual photos of the mutilated sections of young ladies on TV when I lived there, and the practice is all but wiped out.
Having that profoundly decadent depth of encroachment put upon their person, undergoing that unfathomable pain, and their destruction of God's beauty, would cause anybody to feel sullen. That is, if they lived through the trauma of shock, infection, bleeding, and distrust of the mother and relatives who held them down as body parts were whacked away. The Devil gleefully watches from the front pew.
My host's project had fallen through. He had taken me to see his farm, allegedly to help him with it. It covered about three acres of rich, heavy, black top soil on a shallow slope in various description of production: tomatoes, corn, pumpkin, sweet pepper and local delicacies, all which needed phosphorous. Tasseling corn stalks were skinny. Tomato stems were purplish and needed suckering along with addition of phosphorus.
I asked to see the fertilizer bags. A worker rummaged through a side building as a yellow feathered hen and her seven chicks dashed out of its shuttered darkness to scratch in the sun and soil.
In a few minutes he brought an empty bag. I examined it and said, "This is not the correct bag. We need the ones which say "0" in the middle of three groups of numbers." He found a heap of them but did not bring them. As I was explaining what the "0" meant, my host blurted, "I will sell this farm to you for 25,000 US Dollars!" I dropped the bag and exclaimed, "I'm on pension!"And the visit was suddenly over.
Now at the canteen too long, I reminded my host that we were to be back in Nairobi by dark, asking, The Masai man beside me at the table was drunk. He hadn't combed his hair that day, that week, or maybe ever. But with his eyes half closed he droned, "Busses leave every half hour. One just left 15 minutes ago." My host suddenly jumped up, grabbed my arm in the process, left his sizable bill, and drove me home lickety-split! He sped through stop signs and red lights, his eyes bulging and lips pursed. As he raced into the corrugated metal fence around the parking lot of his hotel, he shouted, "See, I told you I'd get you home in 45 minutes!" After so many of my personal effects were stolen by hotel staff, I quit paying my bill weekly, trying to get someone to pay attention. It didn't work. So I complained. The financial manager whined, "No one else ever complained. If you don't pay your bill, the nice clerk will have to. You don't want THAT, do you?" I took my empty radio case, listed other items on paper, and said, "Give this to your staff thief. And when you develop a conscience, you will realize that you owe me 27,000 shillings or a thousand USDs; your choice. Here's the address to send it to." I included numerous bills for telephone calls I made but which did not go through.
Then I angrily went to the office to see what was happening. The clerk was writing, and I harangued: "I never saw such greed! I thought I'd seen it all!" I was waving my arms as people gathered. She was embarrassed and kept lowering her head to the counter as she wrote.
I continued, "I have written three successful business people in America and told them they could learn new methods of gouging, over-pricing, double pricing and theft. All they have to do is be a guest at the Parsonic Hotel for ONE month!" By this time her head was all the way down to the counter as she continued to write.
Suddenly, she reared up and exclaimed, "We might be greedy but we are not hostile!" And I paid her. The matter was partially alleviated by having a goal to meet. I had met Hassan and was ready to leave. One of my life's goals ended in this seven week period I spent in Nairobi.
Mohamed arrived at my hotel at the appointed time. My suitcases were already packed and he picked them up without saying a word, carried them downstairs, placed them in the trunk of his taxi and shut the lid before going to the front seat.
The dilapidated taxi sped down Uhuru Highway towards the airport. I wondered if the left front tire would last long enough for us to make it. It was slapping on each revolution. We arrived early though and used up the remaining shillings on tea and cake before we boarded Kenya Airlines.
Kenya Airlines went to Khartoum first. Several passengers including myself were awaiting the arrival. But no one but Sudanese were allowed to leave the plane. I changed the makeshift subject.
"Mohamed, what is all that yellowish dusty stuff in the air? It goes up a thousand feet." "Sand.""You mean the desert is blowing away?""Yes, it is slowly moving south by southeast."The conversation widened to include history pertaining to Africa, Asia and Russia.
As the plane sat on the ground I stared through my window at the pale yellow dusty air. And glimpsed roof lines of distant buildings drawn horizontally through yellow air which reminded me of droodles when I was in high school. My favorite was a square drawn on white paper. That was a picture of a polar bear in a snow storm.
At this point I recalled other items I learned at Andrew Jackson High School before it became Miami Jackson High. How twelfth graders acted! I knew better than that when I was in the seventh grade if I did regress to it by the time I got there. Among lessons I learned were two poems. One I won't repeat and I just forgot the other.
I reminisced about we girls carrying Griffin shoe polish to school to keep our fashionable black and white saddle oxfords scrupulously clean to the bottom edge of the soles; white bobby socks turned over the legal three laps.
One day when I went to Mrs. Beach's geography class after Physical Education and forgot to throw out my gum, the first thing she said was, "Carmen Freeman! Are you chewing gum in my geography class?" Some students managed to swallow their gum as they said, "No Ma'am," but I said nothing. She said I had to write, "I will not chew gum in Mrs. Beach's geography class," 500 times. Anyway, I preferred that to the lesson. She must have known that.
I used the three-pencil method; that of banding three pencils together, and handed the assignment to her at the end of the class. She said I would thank her someday and I do, 60-some years later.
Actually she wasn't always that stern. On April Fool's Day she left the room with a usually guarded grade book lying wide open on her desk. David immediately ran to it and placed a bottle of blue shiny metal "spilled ink," all over her open grade book. When she came back, she was appropriately horrified! And Mrs. Satterfield, my seventh grade math teacher, ugly as sin to the proverbial wart on her nose. But now I know that her heart took in all who would have it. Even to Tommy who sat in front of me. He made a smart remark to which Mrs. Satterfield retorted, "Tommy, you aren't one bit cute!" Tommy smartly retorted, "I bet you never won no beauty prize!" Mrs. Satterfield had laughed along with the boisterous class, her vast belly shaking like Santa's bowl full of jelly.
I especially remember my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Gibbons. She had just banished Raymond to the back of the room when a long musical bubble emanated from his Netherlands and the class rocked and roared in laughter! He roared too, with his head slung back, big teeth gaped around a guffaw. Mrs. Gibbons admonished with a finger, "Only a skunk enjoys his odor!" I hummed a few bars, and half sang an old popular radio advertisement: "If you wore shoes upon your head you'd make sure they were clean. So shine your shoes with Griffin all the time, Griffin time is the time to shine. When you hear that familiar chime: ~ ~ . Ding Dong, Ding Dong . it's time to shine. Shine-your-shoes-with Griffin-all-the-time. ~" I switched to another popular advertisement of a by gone era: "D-U-Z, D-U-Z, put DUZ in your washing machine [wringer type]. See your clothes come out so clean." A long silence prevailed and I continued musing. I recalled how proud Dad was when he brought home an unopened carton of DUZ for mother during WW2 when it was rationed. He laid it on the linoleum kitchen floor, slit it open and slipped out the door.
There was an especially catchy tune during that era. For a long time it was on the charts. I sang it along with my junior high Phys. Ed. class as we marched in two's back to the locker and shower room at Andrew Jackson High, wearing our white monkey suits, we called them, with elastic guarding our modesty around the bloomer legs.
"Mairzy Dotes and Dozy Doats and Liddle Lamzy Divey. A kiddle-ee divy too, wouldn't you-oo? A "If the words sound queer and funny to your ear; a little bit jumbled and jivy. Sing, 'Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy.' " "So, Mairzy Dotes and Dozey Dotes. "I went back another few years in my mind to the first seed I ever planted: a tomato seed from mother's supper salad. I planted it at the edge of our back yard septic tank and it grew like wildfire, producing red, succulent one-pound tomatoes! I then dug up a row of grass in the back lawn and planted a row of zinnia seeds which grew thick and tall. I sold colorful bunches for 35 cents to surrounding neighbors as far as the spreading avocado tree which over-hung my street at the end of the block.
Behind the septic tank was an ancient rubber tree with wide and thick leaves under which I built a small house, 4 x 4 x 4 feet, of scrap lumber, and wired it with flashlight batteries and bulbs. It was my haven.
Betty Lou came over daily to play horse shoes and sit in the little dark room with me, carrying lipstick she wasn't allowed to wear. Sandals I wasn't allowed to wear sat on a fading clump of grass in a corner.
Betty Lou was privy to a weekly ritual which a sister and I had. Mother would not let us use sugar to make fudge because it was rationed during WW2. To get the required amount of sugar to make fudge, each of us purloined one table spoon a day, on Friday's when Mother went with Dad to get the car to buy groceries for the week. She went to every name grocery there was in Miami to get the lowest prices, preferring A&P for fresh vegetables, and it gave us plenty of time to make fudge, eat it and wash pots and pans before Mother returned.
But that wasn't the only Friday ritual. We children were not allowed to fight, at least not in front of a parent. Lacking that, we frequently threatened an offending sibling with, "Okay, just you wait 'til Friday!"As soon as Mother and Dad started backing down the driveway, we began setting up. We put our youngest sister Francey, in the screened-in front porch and locked the door to keep her from roaming or from getting hurt in our fracas, as we were responsible for her. And we set about beating up on each other, hiding, jabbing and calling each other fierce names like "doo doo clump," as she watched through the screen door. I always hid in Mother's woven straw hamper. On wash days Mother always wondered why the dirty clothes were mashed down.
My sister always hid under the wrinkled heap of an unmade bed. We were not very original but we cleaned up the house before mother returned. Sorry Mother.
During the flight to Addis Ababa from Khartoum, I asked for a snack. The Kenyan stewardess graciously brought another hot meal saying, "It has been a long time since the last meal." I had kept the plastic utensils from the first meal; Mohamed had donated his; and now I had three sets to take to Gode with me, supposing anything would be of value.
I sat by the window on this leg of the trip to Addis Ababa, and observed the terrain changing from desert yellowish sand-in-the-air to varied green patches on the hills.
"What kind of soil is this?" I asked.
"Farming soil.""Why isn't it being used?""No water.""No rain?""No rain."We were approaching Addis Ababa from the NW but already I was piecing together conditions I would encounter in SE Ethiopia, the part which abutted Somali in desert regions. The only news I'd had about drought/famine areas was from CNN which showed five caved-in mothers sitting in a row, holding their babies too weak to cry while awaiting United Nations gruel to be served to them. I wondered then "Why just five." Why not 5000 here and 5000 at the next stop along the road? And about the posterity of a young woman who just died; she left only a twig hut with a bed of twigs laid across a shallow indentation in the ground for the puny comfort of her puny hips as she slept. It was an outrageously puny newscast but I had no idea to what extent at that time. Not at that time! As we approached Bole Airport at its 8000 foot elevation, I scanned the runway's end. Six years earlier when I landed here, there was a crunched broken body of a plane, it's wings laying off each side. It was still there, reminding approaching pilots… I had sat in the lobby under loose guard for four hours, cautiously waiting to connect with Tanzania Airlines to Dar es Salaam. Ethiopia was under brutal seige of communism so I stayed visible in the lobby while studying Russian airplanes through the windows.
Now, Mohamed took me through customs, found a cab, placed my luggage in the trunk and closed the lid before he left for the front seat. We went to Ras Hotel on Churchill Street.
That night, I dreamed I was an Ethiopian orphan girl eight years old. I was running though the halls of Ras Hotel in desperate fear, trying to hide. I was barefoot; had no underwear. My dress was a raggedy brown croker sack which bagged down to my ankles.
The purpose of my stay at Ras Hotel was to orient myself to the associates of my new NGO - a Non- Government Organization - or relief agency. It was only a few months since the bloody dictator Mengistu was forced out of the 17 year massacre, the country was bankrupt, and I was supposed to help out. How? I met my NGO associates the next morning. It was composed of 12 Somalis who were to line me up with a chapter in Gode which was a central refuge camp located in SE Ethiopia, mostly for Somalis but Ethiopians lived there too.
But we never got together after that. I couldn't contact them. Their phone didn't work. And I couldn't obtain their location. Mohamed dropped by daily to orient me to area shops, however bare. I ate at the Ras Hotel restaurant. They didn't have a menu so I ate what there was: a club sandwich or hot milk with coffee for most meals except breakfast. Breakfast was scrambled eggs with coffee and hot milk, mixed.
But one morning, I wrote a note on my tab saying, "Some customers like to have their coffee served at the same time their meal comes, so it does not get cold while waiting." The message was sent around with much disturbance and finally a waiter came to my table, bowing as is the gentle custom, and asked in much distress: "Madame, is it my fault?" Later, I was shocked to learn why there was so much distress. Until recently, one of Mengistu's horrors was to have his communist soldiers pull the man of the house out of a house each night, shoot him in the head and demand payment for the bullet if they wanted the body. Citizens were still in shock! But for now, I replied to the waiter, "It is a matter of coordination between the cook and waiters." Relieved, he thanked me. And brought another cup of hot coffee with my breakfast which I sipped thoughtfully and tearfully.
As food became available, menus expanded. A Matre'd was brought in. The clientele grew. Soon, a second Mater'd was brought in for evening hours. Place mats and leather bound menus were set before customers. Waiters in uniform genteelly brought salt and pepper shakers, utensils, and linen napkins, just ahead of steaming, colorful platters of food. Long before I reluctantly left Ethiopia, Ras Hotel's restaurant provided fine savoir faire and exuded an inner warmth not available elsewhere.
But one day six weeks after I arrived, Mohamed said, "I will be leaving tomorrow."Warily I asked, "Where are you going?" Realizing that I would be on my own, my agency having abandoned me. I gaped at the stuffed lion raging on his perch in a niche beside me, his fangs bared, claws splayed, and tail agitated in mid air. Maybe I felt the same way! Mohamed replied only with, "It will be a very long time." I continued my daily routine of walking my Beggars and vendors carrying cardboard boxes of notions and hundreds of the homeless, crowded the sidewalks. Hotel doormen in old blue and gold uniforms and visor hats, kept the hordes beaten back with canes so that scarce customers could get through. At night, children lay in huddles in the middle of cold-at-8000 foot sidewalks and on edges of streets, using the curb for a pillow. They wore facsimiles of clothes: no legs in pants; split seams which bare bottoms bulged through; zippers stuck open; sleeves torn off shirts and coats. It was a grotesque sight as they lay in dead sleep. Some were dead! I wondered what it would be like to awaken and find one's best buddy dead.
One little boy about six years old, was allowed to stand near the entrance of Ras Hotel and accept donations. He was not aggressive about it. His clothes were clean and pressed if the pants did reach only to his calves. He wore shoes, socks, and a shirt with jacket sleeves too short. His demeanor was pleasant and he was good looking as he leaned into his homemade walker. He reminded me of my third child who had cerebral palsy: His condition wasn't going to stop him! I was seized with such strong emotion that I restrained myself from overdoing the moment.
I leaned down to him and asked his name as I dropped a coin in his pocket. As he looked at me, he opened his mouth as if he would talk but only gentle sounds came out. As I stood listening, a bystander said, "Madame, he cannot talk." I stayed at the Ras until I ran out of US dollars which foreigners were required to pay government owned hotels, then moved to a rooming house nearby where I could spend less with birr exchanged for my US dollars sent to the Ethiopian bank. A man with the NGO which abandoned me obtained the room, had the price doubled, I found out later and split it with the lady of the house.
I was curious about the origins of Ethiopia. City buildings were made of stone and marble, were grungy as I supposed buildings of antiquity would be. But Addis Ababa was only 100 years old. I would ask Mikre.
Mike was a journalist for an Ethiopian newspaper, had a degree from California State U at Fresno in journalism and a room in Ras Hotel. For 20 years he had carried a letter in his back pocket which he had written to Dean Rusk but never sent and showed to me. When I asked where the antiquity was, he said it was in Axum, an ancient city in north Ethiopia with a 3000 year written history.
Collectively, the Bible, the Koran, Josephus, exact history, inexact history, all present an incredible love story which happened 3000 years ago.
"The Bible tells us that King Solomon was to build a temple in Jerusalem and he sent buyers to the four corners of the earth – those known at that time, that is. The Queen of Sheba in northern Ethiopia, heard of King Solomon's fame, wisdom and riches and she went to see him." "She took well over 797 camels, mules, and asses laden with gifts she herself presented to the king and King Solomon reciprocated with eleven changes of clothes daily for six months and an abundance of food [2 Chronicles 9:9]. Then, she gave the king 120 talents of gold, spice in great abundance and precious stones. There were never any spices such as those the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon." Verse 12 of 2 Chronicles 9 is quoted. "Now, King Solomon gave to the Queen of Sheba all that she desired and whatever she asked for; much more than she had brought to the King. So she turned and went to her country, she and her servants." By this time, religious and historical gaps in my American education were filled and I had continuity Several local historians said that those spices included the first coffee which King Solomon ever tasted; brought from Kaffa, a few hours drive south of Addis Ababa. Kaffa is a high producer of prime coffee to this day. Highly sought after Ethiopian coffee is exported throughout the world today! Continuing with history, "King Solomon wanted a son by her. His ruse was to give her a farewell party served with spicy food to make her thirsty. He invited the queen to sleep in his palace since it was late at night. The queen agreed, upon Solomon's oath that he would not take her by force as she was a virgin." "Two beds and a water jug were placed in the royal chamber and they retired. The queen became thirsty and went to the water jug in the center of the room. As she par-took of the water, Solomon arose and accused her of breaking her oath that she would take nothing by force from the palace. Solomon was released from his promise and they slept together." "Before she left Jerusalem, Solomon gave the queen a ring, saying, 'If you have a son, give him this The son grew up, took the ring and went to Jerusalem, but did not wish to stay. Instead, he came back to Ethiopia and became the first ruler: Menelik the First! Menelik was the first of 225 kings and queens in a straight line from King Solomon in Jerusalem to Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, who was murdered by communist forces in 1975 in our own time.


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