Academic journal article Transnational Literature

In Ethiopia, Once

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

In Ethiopia, Once

Article excerpt

'How did the rest of your week go, George?' The question was asked by Edna, a South African journalist whom I had interviewed on Monday. It was now Sunday.

'Well, on the one hand... ' I gestured, ' I did three more interviews. But on the other... ' a second gesture, 'I was almost eaten by a lion.' Everyone laughed, and I explained. The anecdote featured a malfunctioning car window in a game park on the outskirts of Nairobi. The hot-and-foul breathed lion had cased the car and its occupants, then walked off.

'Must have been a vegetarian,' said Devi, Bill's waggish roommate.

Bill was the mild-mannered son of my dentist (father) and eye doctor (mother). Reared in an affluent New Jersey 'burb minutes from the city, he was a little Clark-Kentish. Devi, an Indian-American from the same place, was tall, thin, and wired. Old friends, they both now worked for a UN group monitoring the distribution of food and other aid at refugee camps across East Africa and the Horn: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia). Or, as Devi quipped, 'we make sure no more than 90% is stolen.' This job required frequent trips to places where it was too dangerous for them to live. Since Edna was the Reuters rep for the Horn, operating, like the roommates, out of Nairobi, she, too, travelled a lot. Edna was Bill's significant other.

The four of us were relaxing at the pool in Bill and Devi's apartment complex in Westlands, an upscale suburb of Nairobi. We were enjoying apres-squash drinks. Bill was in his early thirties, and Devi and Edna looked about the same, which made them all a bit more than half my age.

'What happened with that guy I introduced you to?' Edna asked, referring to the Managing Editor of African Zeitgeist, an important news weekly. If it is not obvious by now, I had come to this part of the world to write an article about local journalists.

'Well, not to make too fine a point of it, it was a fiasco.'

'Oops,' said Edna. 'Sorry. What went wrong?' So I told them a second story, this one much more elaborate than the lion story.

I had telephoned and made a date for a working lunch with the editor, a Kenyan Asian, but after that everything went wrong. First, some pickpockets on the bus I took from my guest house had a go (unsuccessful) at my wallet. Flustered and hot, I then had trouble finding the restaurant, a steak place in the downtown business district that the editor had suggested. Since I hadn't quite caught the name, which turned out to be 'Prime Eats,' I wandered around for a while, until the penny dropped. Luckily, or maybe not, I still managed to arrive early, but only because the editor was late, which I excused because I knew he was a busy man.

After he had bustled in and spotted me in the dining room, we shook hands, and he moved us to the bar. While I ate and anticipated the interview, he ignored me, watching cricket on the big TV, gobbling down some food, guzzling a beer, and chain-smoking. Perhaps, his frantic behaviour stemmed from the fact that the match, some kind of cup final, involved his original homeland, India.

As soon as it ended, looking at his watch, he suggested - then, insisted - that, since I was the one who had initiated the interview, I should pick up the check. Outraged, but reluctant to create a scene, I acceded as gracefully as possible. Given that Nairobi restaurants can be expensive, the check luckily turned out to be manageable.

As we were nodding our very cool farewells out on the sidewalk, he seemed to notice how angry I was. At any rate, he turned on the charm. ' But, please, George, you must come to my home this Sunday for lunch. We can do the interview right after we eat. Inshallah, I'll call you that morning and pick you up in my car.' But he never did call.

'I thought the plan sounded good,' I concluded, 'especially the inshallah part. Isn't that some kind of oath?'

'Well, no, George,' Devi explained, 'not exactly.' Bill and Edna looked amused. …

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