Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A town called Adowa

My initial memories of Adowa, in the province of Tigre, in Ethiopia go back to the time when I was two, two and a half years old! A fortnight after my birth in the Princess Tsehai hospital in Addis Abeba in 1968, my mother and I flew to Asmara, and then proceeded by road to Adowa. We changed two houses there and the second one was the larger one. The maid took me during evenings to the local church and what comes strongly to mind is the heady, pungent scent of the incense wafting through,yet somehow rather cleansing!
Sometimes the male servants took me on a walk to the river close by and I still remember the rather deep holes in the mud banks caused by the eroding effect of the flowing water! The loud sound of the labouring engines of the Fiat trucks did frighten me a lot! Insects and strange critters I called hungoogoo!
Our social circle was formed of a very rich mixture of nationals from Philippines, Sri Lanka, Peace Corps from the U.S. and Indians. One particular Indian boy of around my age that I remember was Nebu,( I don’t remember if that was his real name). A lot of partying took place amongst the Ex-Patriots and rolls of Injera, the local bread or rather pancake made of a grain called Tef was served liberally. No wonder, Injera had become my favourite food from early childhood itself!
I lived in Adowa with my parents and my uncle, all of whom were teachers in the Government school itself. Adowa later became more significant for my parents because one of their students studying in class eight later on became an important figure in the Government, and his name is Meles Zenawi!
One of our Ethiopian friends was Ato Adam, (Ato is the Amharic equivalent of Mr.), a teacher who taught in the same school as my parents. I went on to meet him many years later in Addis over a treat of Special Pizza! A guitar enthusiast, he often came home with his guitar to sing hymns! One day some boys stole his guitar and hid it in some thick grass, planning perhaps to take it away later on at a convenient moment! He also had a rather mischievous monkey which was always getting into trouble!
My first tricycle was of metal and it was red in colour, and the wheels were white. The second tricycle, bought from Amara, also red in colour went to my brother. Although we had a lot of toys, I never missed the opportunity of playing with my uncle’s Remington Typewriter often jamming up the keys which he good naturedly set right!
Life in Adowa as seen through the eyes of a little child of two and a halt to three years was a very fairy tale kind of life, something of a dream, relaxed and rather smooth. There were frequent long journey trips to Massawa and Asmara, now in Eritrea. The journey was through some of the most dangerous roads winding through hairpin curves, gravel roads, culverts which filled up during the rains, and the prospect of being confronted by the Shifta or the bandits. No wonder, I threw out frequently on those winding roads. Massawa was a rather humid and damp sea-port with the all pervasive smell of sea fish and brightly coloured paddle boats dancing on the waves in the harbour. The feel of the sea weeds on the body while going for a dip still comes to mind, along with the salty water mistakenly swallowed is a vivid memory. The buildings in Massawa and Asmara had a distinct Italian touch with green coloured slats or rather fixed blinds on the windows of the buildings. During Christmas, the Christmas tree on one of the boulevards in Asmara was brightly lit!
By the time my parents were transferred to Arbaminch in the GamoGofa province at the Southernmost region in 1972, I was particularly fluent in Tigrigna  and could converse like a native! Arbaminch was somehow very different from Adowa. It was like living in a rather less developed town, surrounded by a dense jungle full of wild animals! Gone was the meticulous Italian town planning evident in the North, with well made roads, and moreover the houses were made of mud wattle slapped on to wooden frame houses.

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