My first question when I got off the plane in Toronto was, “What am I doing here?” I have repeated the question over and over again in the four days I’ve been on North American soil. People keep saying things about “home” and “safe” in their conversations with me now that I’m back, but I find that those words don’t really apply. The friends I made in Addis gave me a terrific send off, with a party on Friday night, a breakfast in my honour on Saturday morning, and finally hugs at the airport on Saturday evening. As I looked at them, I saw “home” in their faces and my surroundings: my Kazanchis neighbourhood with its busy sidewalks and characters, the blue and white taxis that populate Addis, and the ubiquitous white cloth that covers its (female) resident's heads. The city is more home to me than Toronto ever has been.
The two things that have struck me most in North America since my return have been food and safety. To generalize the first, everyone is always eating here. In the airport, everyone passed the time before their flights by snacking. I bet most of them weren’t even hungry. The evening I arrived, I attended a Canada Day BBQ, which consisted primarily of 6 hours of non-stop eating. I could barely walk out the door, because I kept eating long after I had my fill. And the things that are being consumed here are so much larger than I remembered- tomatoes the size of baseballs, meal portions bigger than my head, and jerry cans full of sugary beverages.
And safety. What is this assumption that Africa is unsafe? Sure, it has more disease and probably more car accidents than in Canada, but it’s not those things we focus on. I was struck by the constant direction given by parents (not my own), signs and PA systems instructing me on how to be ‘safe’. Like in the airport, a voice without a face told me regularly to, “Please stay to the right of the moving sidewalk so that others can pass safely on the left.” Signs in the Boston subway emphasized a safe and happy Fourth of July. People seem to be glad that I’m home safe, but I must admit that I never felt particularly unsafe in Ethiopia.
So, here I am in North America once again. They’re right when they say Africa gets under your skin. But I’m trying to count my blessings, including McDonalds cheeseburgers, speedy internet, and loved ones.