It’s 5:00AM and raining. I sit crouched under a tree by the side of 18th Street waiting for my ride. I see his Toyota pull up around the bend and I rush over.
Emmanuel helps me with my bag and I hop in. We take off towards the airport. He introduces himself as an Ethiopian American. From our destination, he knows that I’m a tourist or a visitor. He asks me how I enjoyed the city.
I had a great time. One of the things that stood out the most was the food. During my week here, I was able to go and try out easily a dozen or so good to great restaurants.
At that his interest is piqued.
“Have you tried any Ethiopian food while you were in DC? There is lots.”
That I had noticed, and while it had been on the radar, it never materialized.
“It’s not matter,” he says. “Next time you are in town, you will try it out.” He pauses a moment, realizing something. “You like spicy food right?”
I love it.
“That’s good,” he seems relieved. “Our food is a lot like Indian food when it comes to spice. Not everyone is able to enjoy it the first time, but they come back and it gets a little better each time.”
I point out that I was amazed to see so many Ethiopian restaurants in one place. In the neighbourhood where I was staying, there were no fewer than three.
“DC is our second country,” he explains. “Back home we have 90 million citizens. Here in Washington DC area, there are 250,000 Ethiopians. That makes this one of our largest cities.” He laughs. “It is a good place to move to. I plan on bringing my family here later this year.”
I tell him that’s great news.
“It is. I haven’t seen my daughter in four years, but this year I will. This year we will all be reunited.”
He quickly cuts into a different comment, asking where I’m from. Canada.
“Canada? I wanted to go to Canada, but they would only let me work one job at a time. How is a man supposed to make enough money with only one job? Here, I worked three for the first six months. It was good. Made lots of money.” He flexes his arm. “Now I only work two. Much more manageable. I get free time now.”
We take an exit that leads towards the airport, but we’re still a while away. He points to the road ahead.
“People, they always talk about the Egyptian pyramids. Any time someone talks about engineering, it’s always pyramids, pyramids, pyramids. But how many people have ever stood and stared at an American highway? I think these are just as impressive.” He pauses, then adds, “and they actually do something. They don’t just sit there in the desert. They move people from place to place.”
I take a moment to admire the highway. I can’t say that I ever thought about it that way before, as something to admire. Mostly just something we take for granted, being able to travel from one state to the next in a matter of minutes.
“All these roads were built by somebody. A generation ago, many of them weren’t here. I wonder what this area will look like one generation from now. The next generation,” he sighs. “I think it’s no good. When I was growing up, things were different. Kids had discipline. You need discipline to get somewhere, you know? Otherwise you are just a kid your whole life. It makes me worried. The worst part is all these things kids say to each other. Bitch, mother fucker… these are silly words. I don’t see why they love them so much. When I was growing up, you see, Ethiopia is a very religious country. No one would go around saying those things to their sister or father or friends but they do here. It must make them feel bold.” He laughs. “I was never so bold back home. No way man.”
We near the airport. It’s still raining. He pulls over to the departures gates.
“Planes too. I suppose those are marvels too aren’t they? Something someone else invented is going to take you back to Canada. Have a good flight.”
I wish him well.