03 April 2008

utter confusion

When I worked in Tanzania, we rode dalla-dallas every day, little 16 or so seat minibuses that were filled with as many people as could sit in the seats, stand hunched over in the aisle, squish onto the bump over the engine, or hang out the door. We never did know the word for the guy who called the destinations ("'Jirojirojiro!") and took the money, so we called him the bus pimp. He's pimping out the destination and trying to attract customers.

Bus pimps in every country call out the names of their destinations quickly and the words always run together. As it turns out, this makes the words, "Mexico" and "Meskel" sound identical. It also turns out that there are both a Mexico Square and a Meskel Square in Addis. It further turns out that even someone who speaks English will not understand a US American who tries to distinguish between the two. This is how I ended up, on my second day in Ethiopia, being kicked out of a minibus by numerous people, all proclaiming loudly that, YES, this was Mexko Square, get out of the BUS already, we need to go.

I had absolutely no idea where I was. I could have been in another country for all I knew. (The day before, it had taken so long to get to my friends' house that I started wondering if I was going to end up back in Sudan - clearly not, because Ethiopia is a very large country, but I was beginning to wonder). And I was decidedly not at any square. I know a square when I see one, and I was not at a square, but on a normal road, with shops and a sidewalk and a petrol station (fine, a gas station. I find it nearly impossible to think in American English while in other countries). I had never seen Meskel Square before in my life, but on the map, it was big, and where I was standing, at MEXICO Quasi-Square-That-Is-Not-a-Square, there was nothing resembling what I knew Meskel Square had to be.

I found my way, of course. After ducking into two internet cafes to surreptitiously check the guidebook and walking the length of the road linking the two "squares", I finally came upon a 14 lane wide road (un-be-leee-vable in Africa) and an amphitheatre that looked much more like my vision of Meskel Square. Which it was. And there was an International Women's Day ceremony going on, UNIFEM and rallying cries and all. Note to self: in the future, when coming from the west in Addis, ask for Bole Road, not Meskel Square. I am fairly certain that I recall reading that Meskel Square used to be called something else, possibly until very recently, and it seems clear that the new name has not yet sunk into the collective consciousness.

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