Tuesday, 10 July 2012

An Ethiopian Visits England

Climbing the stairs of the metal vulture
and sitting down, being strapped in,
plastic squares descend down in rows,
a white woman wearing a white hat
making gestures with her arms,
all teeth and eyes.

The metal bird starts to flex its wings
and the whole vessel shakes:
a low rumbling, like a million hungry stomachs,
or the earth making bellows in frustration,
we 'taxi' to the runway, speed
frantically up the tarmac.

My eyes feel pressed against the back of my skull,
I hold onto the plastic rests so hard
it feels like my hands will impress them
like putty. Soon we are rising through the air,
the metal bird flying away from parched aridity,
away from my home, up into the blue.

It is like we are a fish swimming through clear water,
through nothing. I try to sleep but I can't.
I have the 'window seat', which means I can see
everything - but suddenly we are so high
that all I can see is an ochre oneness, and once we get to
the Med, all is highest clouds and sea.

After several hours, a small voice trapped in a speaker
says, 'We are now approaching Gatwick Airport,
please return to your seats, return them to the upright postion
and fasten your seatbelts. Thank you.'
The man next to me fastens the belt around his waist
so I do the same.

Fifteen minutes later we are 'on the ground',
but not in a messy fashion - we have 'landed'!
I look from the window, whilst the stewardess
thanks us and welcomes us to England, though she
has only just arrived herself, and everything is grey,
rain streaks the sky as if it is perpetually crying.

I walk straight through to Arrivals - I've no luggage to collect -
and Mr and Mrs Robinson, and their daughter, Emily,
are there to meet me. They look happy, relieved that I am there.
In the car ride home the rain pelts the windscreen,
they listen to the radio - they have one in their car! - music pumping
softly into me from all directions, the beats less simple, less one.

They ask me where I come from. 'Afar Region,' I say.
'Yes, that is far - Ethiopia,' they say. I think I know what they mean.
My English is not so good. I am here on a scholarship to learn English
at college. Some people look at me funny here, I'm not sure why.
We get in and 'dinner' is soon ready - chicken, potatoes and vegetables.
I am hungry, they look surprised at me, beastly. I go to bed.

The next day they take me to a swimming pool. Now get this, mama!
They have big rooms full of water! It rains all day and all night here,
and yet they have big rooms full of water! I thought of the children dying
in the desert, and the mothers waterless, too weak to breastfeed their babies,
and then I see these people, splashing around as carefree as monkeys!
We go to get something to eat in the café. 'Sandwich?' they say.

But I have lost my appetite. I stare down at an empty plate.

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