By Surafel K Gebreselassie
The day started like every Saturday. I had the usual bread and a cup of hot tea. Just before I left the house mama pulled me over and told me not to go anywhere that day.
“I had a bad dream,” she said. “I want you to pound the coffee,” she continued.
Rahel, my younger sister, had roasted the coffee beans. I took over hurriedly and started pounding it. It came to me what mama said. We were afraid of mama’s dreams. Her dreams always came true. I pounded the coffee enough to get to fine powder, just how mama wanted her coffee ground. She wouldn’t want it very fined. That wouldn’t bring out the oil. She came over the back alley where I was dumping the powder on a cup. She bent over and mumbled again, loud enough for me to hear.
“Please stay at home, I had a bad dream,” she said it again. I still remember the worried looks on her face. When I remind her these days she bounces back in time and just reflects on the challenges of that era.
“I knew that you were not listening to me,” she told me one day.
I still remember the shock on her face when I came home later that afternoon with a broken right arm.
As soon as I finished pounding the coffee I run away to the soccer field to the dismay of her. It wasn’t that I was a good player but I remember being lucky in front of goals. There was always somebody from the neighborhood who would show up to see how we played soccer. I remember how people reacted when I slalomed through several defenders and the goal keeper but ended up shooting the ball wide.
‘You could have done it earlier, why waste all the trickery to miss the ball,’ I remember some angry spectators shouting their frustration.
With a flailing broken arm and supported by friends, I managed to get home after stopping by a local pharmacy for a couple of Indian made acetaminophen pills and a cup of cold water. I was thirsty. Tears, sweat and mud had disfigured what was left of me. Mama was frustrated, angry and yet crying at the same time. Soon the two bed room ranch was full. People took turns to look at my arm. She said my father would kill me. He was gone for the day. When he was back, he was resigned to the facts. They didn’t trust the medical system and decided to take me to a local bone setter who placed a cast and advised me to take pain killers except that the pain never went away and my wrist bone was not right from the look of it. I wasn’t able to bend it. Confusion set in the family. Grandmother intervened and suggested another bone setter who used to live in the outskirts of Addis. After a long bus drive we managed to get there. I was scared. Four people had to hold me tight until this bone setter broke my bone again to align it in place. It was the worst pain of my life. Mom wasn’t there because she didn’t want to see me cry. I was briefly unconscious. It was also a moment of change. The way I see things started to change. I became a quite person. I learned how to write with my left hand. Grandma would bring me consolation, some grapes from the same garden that she fiercely protected. I missed school for 2 months. I stayed at home alone for most days. Our rented ranch had 2 small bed rooms, a living room, a kitchen and a latrine. In front of us there were three town houses each with a living room and a bed room. Each town house had a detached kitchen. It’s unthinkable now how many families lived in that complex. Mr Ahmed and his wife, Aisha, along with their son and two daughters were in the right farthest corner. They had a black and white TV before any one of us so all the kids would beg to get in to watch soccer games. That is where I saw the magic of Maradona. After I broke my arm I got permission to watch other shows broadcast in the only government owned Ethiopian TV. I had to leave before the end of the shows on many occasions. It was simply too late for them to stay up beyond 10 pm. I also remember the days I enjoyed some of the best pastry during the fasting holy month of Ramadan. Mr Gebre and his wife, Roman with their son and three daughters used to live in the middle house. The living room had a bunker bed to accommodate everyone. A nephew would join them from Awasa, the southern province of the country. Known for keeping house maids on their toes, Roman had a heavy presence in the compound. It wasn’t always easy to communicate with her. I was afraid of her although over the years she loosened up. We envied them because of their old automobile, a Chevrolet. I was a little older than both the boys but occasionally played soccer together. The house farther left was shared by two families each essentially living in a room. The front part, what would have been the living room, was owned by Kiristos and his wife Mulu and their four sons and three daughters. They didn’t have a separate kitchen and often cook on the verenda with their section covered and separated from the rest of the complex. I used to put on my arm sling and sit on the veranda. After everyone leaves to work or school, Mulu would stay behind making stew with its sweet aroma feeling the compound. A stew of chickpeas. When I talk to the children after so many years we wonder how they managed to live in that one room. Mr Kiristos was rumored even then to have had lots of money. I was very fond of him. They would have bought TV if they had space to put it on. In the later years the boys would come to our place to watch soccer. I remember one day when the younger boy farted just before Platini took a penalty. On the back room lived Mr Argaw and Almaz along with their three daughters, two of whom slept in the kitchen. In between our ranch and theirs was a common area, about ten feet wide excluding the veranda space. At both ends of the common area lie two poles with two or three ropes tethered to hang wet clothes. Just next to our verenda there was a sewage line that drained the rain water. All the water would drain to it because of the sloppy nature of the land escape. The water and all the sewage then curves right by our bed room and drain further down another 10 feet before it joins another shanty compound just to the right of us. I always felt that our family got the worst of it. My father’s wheezes often signaled the beginning of winter. All the families in the compound shared a tap water source. We took turns to fill our plastic pails. The kids even bathed there in a hot summer day. Arguments would break out during heavy winter season between the neighborhoods on more than few occasions. The path of the sewage is the main contention point. A woman with an evil eye lived in the neighborhood immediately next to our compound along with others. Their wall and back windows faced us. We didn’t know how many bedroom she had as no one dared to look through the window. If the woman opened her window, we all would run to take cover, site a verse from the bible to shield us from her evil eye.
When I finally made it to school, I realized how much I had changed. My classmates were all ahead of me. It felt like a life time. I no more wanted to be the soccer player I so much adored. Conquering pain became my destiny. I wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t know how to proceed except to take it one at a time. The first thing was to quit soccer. So I did. It would take Ethiopia thirty one years before qualify for the continental cup. I made the right choice.