Hatching Free Range Ideas

Hauntings and helpings in Ethiopia

In Africa stories, Ethiopia on August 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm

This is Suzanne who runs a hair salon and boutique in Addis Ababa. Originally from France, Suzanne came to Addis in 1964 to train flight attendants for Ethiopian Airlines. A number of things happened to her during her first 20 years. She used learning new things as a way to manage the turmoil, so she got a degree in textile design and later learned jewelry design. But there’s more to her story.

Suzanne told some of it over tea when we went to her shop to look at lovely handmade silk scarves. “It’s hard to live comfortably in Africa and feel good surrounded by suffering.” I also found that in the brief time I was in Ethiopia, I often felt entirely over-privileged. I was grateful but in that gratitude, I also felt small. There’s a tension between feeling good because you are doing something worthwhile and feeling small because you aren’t living the life and can retreat to a world of comfort and safety.

But I digress. This is Suzanne’s story. And her story includes many others.

The basket you see in the table in front of her is filled with silkworm cocoons and the silk thread that is woven and dyed from those cocoons. She works with a group in India who provides mobility to people who have been immobilized by disease or injury. Once they are mobile, they again become working members of the community and so must have work. They spin the silk in India.

Here is a photo of a photo of one of the spinners.

The silk threads then come to Ethiopia, where silk shawls are woven on pit looms. I went to get one or two to take a photo for you but then I remembered that my cameras were stolen out of my checked luggage somewhere between Addis and San Antonio. Thankfully, I had removed the cards so that I have my photos.
Ah well. Again, I can’t get too upset about it since I have so much. Almost seems like an equaling activity.

Here’s a scan (see, so much?), which doesn’t quite do them justice in that you can only see the design, you can’t see the iridescent sheen of the silk threads. Suzanne provides the design and the threads; Ethiopian weavers provide the weaving skill.

One more Suzanne story. It’s one that happened to her more than 10 years ago but it still haunts her. It’s an illustration of how hooked in you can become in Africa.

One day I was driving somewhere and I stopped at an intersection. There was a woman there with a beautiful baby boy. When I looked at him, he reached out both his arms to me. The mother said, “Take him.” I didn’t. And then the next week, each day I went back to that intersection to see if the woman was there again with her baby. I know that I should have taken him. I see that baby in my mind all the time.

I’m haunted by not doing enough either. What haunts you?

  1. Everyone I’ve known who has visited Africa returned a changed person. There must be something very powerful about being in the birthplace of humankind.

  2. I was robbed in front of Suzanne’s store. That was not something the people who were there cared about and that haunted me.

    • Wow! That’s the first that I’ve heard of someone being robbed on the streets in Addis. I’m so sorry.

      I had the sense in Ethiopia that people believed they were being watched all the time and that decreased the personal crime rate. Other than Nairobi, I have felt pretty safe in East Africa, that is, safe from personal assault. I did lose two cameras out of my luggage, either at the Addis or Istanbul airport, but that wasn’t an assault.

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