Immigrant Life / Travel: Ethiopia

On Cloud Nine

When you’re the only habesha person – a young shabbily dressed female at that – in the Business Class section of an Addis – Hong Kong flight, you’ve got some explainin’ to do.

You can’t blame the airline employee who herded all the ET 608 passengers – VIP and RP alike – en masse to a new boarding area, for overlooking your outstretched boarding pass to instead receive that of the very average white dude standing  behind you, all the while yelling “Business class!” Sure, he was quickly embarrassed into a more-than-mumbled apology upon your terse “Hello, I’m here. I’m Business Class”, which you said in an intentionally American accent. But you have to admit, nothing on you says “high class” or “elite”.

The hair is a do-over from yesterday, lord knows when that asymmetrical cardigan saw a washer, the bizzare dress-cum-longshirt is of indecipherable pattern, and only the black colour of your pants masks their near-death state and horribly fringed hems.

Let’s gracefully skim over your ashy feet and still-rain-soaked woven stretch cloth shoes. Yes, they’re from New York City, but you wouldn’t know it to look at them now. And yes, you’re a “Cloud Nine”, but no one would know it to look at you now, or to look at you ever.

So what are you, a scruffy, red-eyed, deceptively young habesha girl doing on a $1768 seat in an airplane section sparsely populated by Westerners and other Africans whose obvious age and gravitas earns them their presence?

You hold a fat book, to appear sophisticated.  In fact, you have read it, so far, and intend to continue until you finish it. Not everything about you is a sham. Admit it, though, at this moment it is more of a saving grace than a genuine literary pleasure. An “I’m a serious adult, I promise” signal to the 3 to 1 ratio of stewardesses to passengers around. As is this very piece of writing itself that you are engaged in while, far behind you, the commoners board. (You will soon forget that you are even tailing them along, so much will your part of the plane start to feel like a private jet.)

For all your trouble and pains, who is paying attention to you, really? To be honest, who would look twice at you if you weren’t habesha, no matter how young and/or scruffy and/or out-of-place you may seem, or imagine you must seem? Why is it, in your own “place”, in an aircraft named after your primary identity (never mind the foreign passport), waited on by those who look and sound like you, you can’t help but feel a little (more than a little) self-conscious?

Blue lights, spaced on the runway at even intervals, mark the path out for the captain and his crew. Idle, you imagine the distances between the lights signify the intervals at which “I promise that I will come home from now on”. Pitch blackness has long replaced the mountainous, crisp green daytime. Corrugated tin fences whiz by in the rain rain rain. In this moment, the plane feels like a train, keeping a steady pace along the track. Soon, the push will come. The point of no return.

“I suppose I could have told them to let me off at any point before now. Not without some commotion, of course, it could have been made to happen. If I dig deep enough, I could cry. I have it in me still, that much attachment.”

Somewhere along the line though, somewhere along the eighteen years, it has dawned on you that this place will always be here. Has it not for thousands of years before? Will it not remain so?

The runway lights are red, yellow and green now. Coincidence or affirmation?

Plus, there are those, let us not forget, who will never come back. Even as they rest in Her very earth, Her very skies and the footsteps of those who come to mourn them yearly, they are gone forever to a place beyond borders, beyond nationalities, beyond classes. For them, no luxury of tears that are falsified by the fact that you can always come back. What are you crying for? Quit.

In the anonymous space of the clouds now, at 12:49:55am Ethiopian time, sentiment lessens further. Mind you, these are the same clouds that, when they liquefy and rain over Addis (excuse the amateur science), you suddenly get proprietary over, that you call “my country’s rain”. Up here, at thirty thousand feet and climbing, they are an envelope of lovely white fluff to muffle out the call of the Motherland below.

Better to fly away at night, better to not be tormented by the purity of all that you are leaving below and behind. Listen to you, not even outside Addis airspace yet and you are already idealizing!

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