KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I was clearly on the mend after seeing the doctor at the hospital and taking the antibiotics that he prescribed, but I still wasn’t feeling strong enough to get out and check the action at one of the large international hotels near the centre of Addis Ababa.
We moved the table and chairs under the large window in our hotel room and ate breakfast in the bright sunshine that was pouring into the room. The nights are quite cool here because of the elevation, but as soon as the sun comes up, the temperature rises quite quickly and I was able to sit with the window open and get some much-needed fresh air.
Christmas fell on a Sunday morning this year, and the streets were very quiet as a result. However, I did notice an unusually large number of people headed towards the cathedral just up the road, so there was plenty going on to hold my attention while I enjoyed my second cup of tea.
I thought back to another Christmas morning, 39 years ago, when I arrived in Addis for the first time after travelling overland in a rusty Volkswagen van belonging to a retired US army sergeant. My girlfriend and I had met this fellow in Khartoum and he offered to transport us to Ethiopia if we would share the cost of the fuel. We couldn’t easily afford to fly, so we took him up on the offer.
All was quiet back then on December 25th as well; there were no major celebrations because Ethiopians follow the Julian calendar and observe the anniversary of the birth of Jesus on January 6-7th.
On that long ago Christmas morning, we awoke at our makeshift campsite just outside the city, and I found two young village children watching us as we emerged into the cold from the cozy van. My friend and I rummaged through our rucksacks and came up with some small pieces of jewellery to give the girls. It felt like Christmas morning to us, but I’m sure the significance was lost on the children.
I hadn’t even thought of a present for Anil this Christmas, and to tell the truth, I knew he was just as happy I hadn’t bothered. However, he did surprise me with a small gift, a book of New York Times Crossword puzzles that he had discovered one afternoon at a local bookstore. He had grown tired of watching over me while I slept the days away recovering from my nasty head cold. He spotted that the puzzles were edited by Will Short, and he knew they would be challenging enough to keep me working at them for hours on end.
After sitting by the window and taking a number of photos of the people passing by as they returned home following the morning service at the cathedral, I settled myself in bed and started the first puzzle. I scanned at least half of the clues without being able to come up with a single answer. To some this may have seemed daunting, but for me, I knew I had a present I could really appreciate.
It was clear to me that I would be spending countless hours to come, working to solve the puzzles, and that I would be turning to my laptop and the trusty Google search engine time and again in order to complete the solutions. Never mind the fact that the answers were just waiting for me to peek at the back of the book. I muted the temptation by getting out my little exacto-knife and cutting the first few pages from the book.
It wasn’t long before I felt my eyes drooping from the effects of the medication I was taking and I dozed off for the balance of the afternoon. With little appetite and even less energy for a Christmas dinner of Ethiopian food at a restaurant down the street, we settled on an unconventional meal. We rarely turn to the comfort foods that attract most other travellers, but without a kitchen of our own in our little hotel room, we settled on a ‘fasting’ (vegetarian) pizza for Anil and a beef burger and fries for me.
If we were back in Canada, I would be only too happy to dig into a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but seeing that I didn’t have to cook the meal, or clean up afterwards, a pizza and a burger suited us just fine for Christmas 2011. I quietly vowed to myself though, that we would be in Canada next year, with our children, family and friends and that this might be our last Christmas away from those we love best.