Monday, August 3, 2009

"Toto, I don't think we're in Addis Ababa anymore."


When I arrived in Ethiopia, the harsh realities of that country weren't so difficult for me. It was the day in and day out of going from one compound to another. The first day I arrived, I was immediately introduced to the pummel and jostle of the intense begging in that country. Later, as I tried to get about in my new home, I learned that a white person on the street sends out a universal invitation, by virtue of having white skin, to every kid from the age of walking to early adulthood to say anything from "Give me money" to "Fuck you," from "I am hongry" to "You son beech." Within a week, I'd developed a phobia for going out on the streets and that phobia persisted until I left the country two and a half years later.

I've often told this to others, and people sympathize, but I'm certain they don't fully comprehend the intensity of the hassle, for a white person, on the streets of Ethiopia. Whenever I've told white people who've spent time in Japan about this, they have said, "That's what they do in Japan." I can't imagine Japanese children saying, "Hey you, you son beech, fock you," but maybe I'm wrong. At any rate, I've had a kind of dread in the back of my mind that I'd get hassled on the streets of Japan. I never realized this until the first morning that I went out, noticing that I'd think things like, "Let's get out there before all the school kids wake up," and "Are you sure you want to do this?" That first walk that first morning, I saw no children. Since then, I've gone on several walks, have seen people of all ages, and no one has said more than greetings to me.

As I walked to the pharmacy (kusuriya) earlier this evening, out on the main road here, I thought about my experiences in Ethiopia, how forlorn I felt and how much I literally hated living there. The converse is that I'm enjoying being able to be in Japan without having to grit my teeth and muster up patience and courage to even think about unlocking my door and going outside. The intense amount of energy given to this during my time in Ethiopia was astounding. When I wrote the rough draft of Wayward Son, I put a lot of words into trying to recreate this loathsome experience for the reader. I don't think it can be done. Without having gone through it, I think the reader thinks I'm making too much of it, perhaps exaggerating, or simply going on and on about it. I can understand that, but I'm also realizing how significant it was for me. I'm realizing now how significant it is for me that I am now in Japan and not in Ethiopia.