To Get To The Other Side
By Meki Shewangizaw
I have a fear of getting in a car accident. Not a two-car collision, but a fear of getting hit by a car while walking. I don’t know where it came from, or when it manifested, but whenever I cross the street–there’s a short-lived sense of panic until I make it safely to the other side.
Now imagine me crossing the street in Addis Ababa.
In this city, crosswalks are few and the drivers who obey them are even fewer. Family and friends can sense my level of discomfort without me having to vocalize it. From people like Sami, a member of my EDF cohort (who often tells me to get on the other side of her so that she can be facing traffic), to my cousins who laugh while explaining that cars don’t stop for people here.
Who surprised me the most is Gasho, a sweet and care-free man, who transports a group of St. Paul’s employees–including me–to and from work. I usually meet Gasho behind the hospital’s administration building. However, on one particular day, he told me to meet him across Gate5, which would mean I would have to cross three busy lanes.
I braced myself and tried to be smart by crossing with a group of seasoned pedestrians, but to my luck, there was no one there. “Get it together, Meki” I murmured to myself, hoping this version of a pep talk would give me courage. I crossed the first two lanes relatively smoothly until I got to the last lane, which had a frenzy of cars coming. Some of the medians in Addis, by the way, are tiny, barely wide enough to place your feet on there.
I stood in the middle while I waited for the road to clear, realizing that I was a foot away from a slew of cars in front and behind me. Meanwhile, Gasho was waiting on the other side watching the whole ordeal. He came to the realization that I could wait there until there was at least a five-minute clearance before I would cross the road. Before I knew it, Gasho crossed the street, met me at the median, and in Amharic said “Yechenkishal mengend lemeshager, adele? “ – “It worries you to cross the street, doesn’t it?” In less than a minute Gasho had crossed the street, held my hand, and helped me cross to the other side, as seamlessly as if the roads were clear.
At first I figured it was because Gasho was getting impatient with me to muster up the courage to cross the last lane. But as he held my hand and said,“ayzosh,” I knew it came from a sense of compassion. When we got to the sidewalk, we both laughed and I thanked him as I got inside the van. He replied, with my favorite phrase in Amharic, “chiger yelem” – “no problem.”
It’s been a few weeks since that day and I have noticed that it has become much easier for me to navigate busy lanes. While I would like to attribute it to some sort of spiritual realization about deep fears, I know that the progress has been borne out of necessity.
Like many other aspects of life in Addis Ababa, traffic moves fast and you have to keep up or get left behind.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship the organization and the leadership.