And it is about the real human condition.
Because Ethiopia, it is raw. It is primal. It is a landscape of all the stuff of life.
It is fresh-ground spices and whole, unroasted coffee beans both sold in rows of burlap bags under tinned roofs. It is garlic bulbs spread out on a thin cloth laying on top of the dirt edges of roads. It is the snot dried on a baby’s upper lip, and it is the firm embrace of an older brother as he carries him across the street.
Ethiopia is unpolished and it is gritty. It is dust absolutely everywhere. It is heat and sun and skin and smells. It is touching your hair after a day of walking throughout the city and feeling the matte of oil and dust clinging to it. It is dust on your sandaled feet and dust at the corners of your sun-strained eyes.
It is intimacy, though, too. There are people absolutely everywhere; people using all public space; people walking elbow to elbow and hand in hand. People tucked into alcoves along all roadways and alleys and streets; people sitting or sleeping or standing or walking or working on the sidewalks, all at once.
It is a place without souvenirs to speak of. There are only markets of flimsy consumer goods – plastic sandals and thin cotton scarves – and cheap foodstuffs: teff and pepper and onion and bananas and garlic. These things are a sustenance, as a whole.
It is a heartfelt hello. It is walking down the worn dirt sidewalks and it is passersby searching for your eyes while passing on the street. It is a smile when their gaze is met. “Hello.” “Good morning.” It is a friendliness; a warmth; a good taste.
And it is infectious.