Sunday, January 3, 2010

Excerpt from Wayward Son

The Following is from my memoir. Enjoy.

The moment our feet hit the yellow gravel on the street in front of our walled compound, a young girl jumped up and cried out. “Fërënji mëtt’a,” she said. Her sentence translated into English as, “The Fërënji came,” using the singular masculine form, referring, I supposed, only to me and not to my wife, Faye. Fërënji is a word borrowed from Arabic, used to talk about the European Christians who came to Palestine centuries earlier, otherwise known as the Crusaders. The girl wore a dirty pink sweater that had probably once been red. It now how had a number of different shades of gray and brown stains. Her large brown eyes sparkled under a mop of brown tangled locks. Her smile was crystalline.

“You, you, you, you, you…” others shouted, running from the other side of the street, their tattered and faded clothes hanging on their tiny bodies. They shouted the English word “you,” a common usage by every child in Ethiopia in response to seeing a White person walking on the street.

T’ena yïst’ïlïny,” we said, using the sparse Amharic we knew. The phrase translates as, “May he (God) give you health,” and is used as a greeting. This elicited a sweep of giggles and looks of wonder from the children, who seemed to draw energy from our attempt at friendliness. They danced around us and followed us up the street until the voices of adult women in languages we could not understand called them back to the flat-timber houses with corrugated, galvanized steel roofs enveloped in blotches of green foliage.

Today was our first day of language school, where we would study Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. We were on our way by foot to the taxi stop at K’ëllëm Fabrica, meaning, “paint factory,” named for the small industrial complex near the intersection. We would catch a taxi to the Joint Language School (JLS) from there. Faye and I continued through the neighborhood, climbing up out of the river valley where the house we were renting was located. The wide road leading up to K’ëllëm Fabrica sprouted large stones and puffed plumes of yellow earth as we walked along.

About halfway to K'ëllëm Fabrica, we passed a cubical hut planked with brown boards and patched up with bits of cardboard and tin cans, some still shiny with tiny rust specs, others completely covered in ruddy encrustation. An old woman sat at the uneven rectangle of the doorway. Smoke from the chimney-less hearth inside fumed out the top edge of the frame. From the sun’s glare I was unable to discern anything past the black entry of the door. The old woman pulled off leaves of gomën (collard greens), placing them in a large kettle, while something simmered in a black pot over an open fire a meter away. Her toothless jaw mouthed a tune, her voice barely audible.