Busy, taxi-crowded streets. Gray skies intermittent with piques of blue streak through bringing rays of light that sheer off into dusk. A long day in the countryside, and now in the market square. There's a roundabout filled with shards of large, misplaced--or forgotten--rock. And accident, so prevalent here, gathers onlookers as well as passersby. Nothing new here. Traffic accidents are common in Addis.
We're looking for some souvenirs. Michael and his guide bargain with a shop owner over the price of a poster of the Queen of Sheba. "500 birr? Too much too much. No."
They move on. I lose them, so I look into the narrow corridors that serve as entrances to the shops. Stepping in, there are wood carvings stacked as high as the 20 foot ceiling. Shoulders touch both walls walking in. There's a counter at the back. Turning right, more trinkets, more souvenirs: giraffes, ebony faces of noble, African queens, lions, zebra, and knives. I pull out the knife from its leather sheath.
"You don't want that," she says. She's smiling. The knife is razor sharp and its point could puncture a belly the way a pin pops a balloon. The blade has a crude, rust and metal color to it. It's definitely makeshift. But oh, so sharp. I put it down, and turn to her.
"No," I say. I don't want that. I smile back. This knife seems fit for one purpose. Purposes for which I have no use. I hold up a different item, wondering what it is.
"Ashtray," she says. "For smoking."
It's a lovely, wooden bowl with authentic, Ethiopian designs. But then I sneer at the prospect of such a lovely item filled with butts. "No, I don't want this either," I laugh.
She's wearing a head covering. Muslim girls where these. But there's another girl, standing not too far off. She's also wearing a head covering. Orthodox girls wear these too.
"Salam," (greetings) is all I know to say.
"Salam," they both say.
Pointing to my chest, "My name is Chris."
"Creese," they say.
"Yes," I say.
We exchange names.
"You are orthodox or Muslim?" I ask.
"Muslim. She's orthodox." She points to her co-worker.
"You are orthodox. I can tell." Her English is perfectly broken. She almost sounds Russian. But we're not in Russia.
"No no. Pente." (Pente means Pentecostal literally, but its connotation is Protestant). I point up to the sky and make a sweeping gesture. "Jesus is my only hope. He forgives me of all my sins. He brings me to God. He died for me, and rose from the dead for me. He brings me to God. Jesus is my only hope."
"Did Jesus die for Muslims? Did he die for me?" she asks.
Looking in her eyes, and touching her shoulder: "Yes. He died for you."
"Pray for me." Her immediate response. She doesn't miss a beat: "Pray for me."
"Do you have a New Testament?"
"Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Luke, Gospel of John? "
"Wonderful! I will pray for you."
More smiles from all three of us. I step outside. The busy street. More taxis. No ones owns cars around here. Across the street is a cement banister that stretches for a mile. There are trees and expanses and a steep cliff. An embassy lies below. A woman with a baby in a sling sack approaches me for money. I hate saying no. I have to find Michael now. Can't be left here alone. Vendors, beggars, always asking for birr. Asking, approaching, coming at me.... There's the guide. He's still in our van, waiting patiently. I turn and look back into the shop, catching glimpses between the cogs of people, shifting here, moving there. I wish I knew their language. I wish! "Goodbye," I say through the narrow corridor. I'm leaning and waving. They smile and wave back.
Goodbye. Perhaps we'll meet again. Perhaps as brother and sister in Christ. Perhaps...