Since my return from Ethiopia, I have found my thoughts in a turmoil that started the first morning I sat at breakfast in the dining room of my hotel, watching the sunny Addis Ababa street life going past outside the windows.
In the wide boulevard, the median was planted with leafy palms. Over a wall, I could see the fuschia-coloured blooms of bouganvillae. Mauve clouds of the Jacaranda mimosifolia tree- blossoms shaded the sidewalk.
Horns honked. The infamous "blue-devil" mini-van taxis swerved to the side of the road, stopping to pick up passengers. The taxi-touts hung crazily out of the side door of the taxi-vans, yelling out the collective destination of each taxi to potential customers, swinging the door shut as the taxis pulled away from the curb.
Lean, lithe pedestrians, neatly dressed in conservative business suits, often with a cell-phone pressed to the ear, streamed past. Women often wore colourful headscarves in varying elegant ways. Western clothing, pants on women, t-shirts, were often seen on the young. Older women tended to wear dresses with skirts that reached the ankle.
The devout women, returning from early morning church services, covered their heads in the traditional white cotton natala, beautifully trimmed with borders, or tibeb, of silk. School children, on their way to school, were all in compulsory uniform. Occasionally, dignified old men dressed in traditional north country garb, with a large wrap of fabric on the head, wearing the traditional shammas wrapped around the shoulders, walked by, back straight, gait firm and sure.
The plaintive rhythmic chanting of the Coptic church prayers of Lent services, broadcast over loudspeakers, had started in the early hours of the pre-dawn.
I had an overwhelming feeling of not belonging, of really being a ferengi, and a conspicuous white one at that! And yet, everything was familiar, the music of the streets, the quality of the light, the smell of the air, as the long-ago childhood memories stirred to the surface. How could I feel such a longing mixed with the feeling of already belonging, being and yet not being of this place, more than any other place that I have ever travelled to?