Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Monday, December 27, 2010

Searching for Dube, but Dube Found Me

For those of you following my blog semi-regularly, I posted a story about a boy named Dube a while ago. Ethiopia is a country where kids have a horrible reputation for harassing tourists, scamming, begging, throwing rocks, and being drunk or high. These are, of course, the most extreme examples, but they sadly are often what tourists remember of the children when they visit Bahir Dar. The ‘bad kids’ can ruin an outsider’s impression of street boys, and that impression can lead to negativity.

I’m guilty of it. In the beginning, the kids were hilarious. Then the honeymoon ended, and the near-constant shouts and begging from children turned me into a slightly bitter person. After continuing to live in Bahir Dar for some months, I became more aware of the problems in Ethiopian society that cause these boys to live on the streets and behave the way they do. Plus, in the end, boys will be boys. I’m sure I yelled offensive things at people when I was young too.

We foreigners here are pretty easy targets, so we seem to get the brunt of this behavior. Other than having rocks thrown at me, I’ve become much more sympathetic and patient about the harassment.

A friend of mine described it best. 95% of all Ethiopians, young and old, are very polite and reserved. Unfortunately, the ones that are obnoxious are so loud, bold, and mean that they can ruin your whole day. It’s easy to associate the irritating behavior of one with all the others. Being here for more than 2 years, I was lucky enough to move past the bad first impressions and start to understand the larger forces at work here.

This brings us to Dube. He is one of the boys that were able to show me the other side of kids in Bahir Dar. He is very polite, honest, and humble. When placed amongst the loud boys, it would be easy for him to go completely unnoticed because of his calm demeanor. That calm demeanor, though, is exactly what makes him great.

Having no way to contact him, the times we would see each other were always by chance. Today, one of our chance meetings happened. I was leaving the post office, feeling slightly annoyed that my mother’s Christmas package hadn’t arrived yet. Walking back toward town, I heard his familiar voice calling my name from my left. He was sitting on a blue bicycle that has to be from 1970 and has only pegs for pedals. The poor condition of his ride was in contradiction with his personal appearance, though. He was looking a bit heavier, and thus healthier. New clothes had replaced the rags I remember him wearing. And as always, he was sporting his huge grin with deep dimples.

I took him to a small juice shop where we enjoyed some cold, thick, layered juices of mango, avocado, and guava. Him trying to practice his remarkable English, and me my meager Amharic, we had a bilingual conversation about school and family. He again impressed me with his photographic memory, recalling things from our friendship with vivid detail. Then we sat in awe as a bright yellow Hummer H2 with plates from Sudan drove up and down the road, drawing attention from the bajaj drivers and pedestrians. Not a common site in our small city by the lake.

The conversation eventually turned to me asking about how he thinks he will do over the next few months after I leave. I don’t take care of him in any way right now, and he does seem to be doing quite well compared to when I met him. In any case, Dube now has a mobile phone, so I’m getting him in touch with the staff at the New Day Children’s Centre to see if he can benefit from their services in any way. In a perfect world, the linkage will happen and Dube will be able to get better scores in school, eventually going on to university and fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor. If anyone deserves a leg up in this world, it’s him. He is too bashful to ever ask for anything from me, but that too is part of his charm.

It was good to see him. I now have his phone number, so I’ll make sure to share one final technicolor juice with him before I leave for Low2High.

Me and Dube on the main road in Bahir Dar. Ethiopian crafts for sale hanging behind us.


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