I arrive in darkness and awake in the near darkness which crowds on the edge of dawn. It’s 5am and the Muezzin echoes across Addis. To me this is the sound of Africa. The first Muezzin was an Ethiopian by the name of Bilal al-Habeshi. He was one of the most trusted companions of Islamic prophet Mohammed.
So I wake in Addis Ababa. At 10am Aida Muluneh – a brilliant photographer and friend – drops by. She is exhibiting at The Smithsonian this year. pic below. We peruse photographs of the stage in The Ghion Hotel. It’s where Bob Marley performed. It’s where I am performing on 25th February at 8pm for BBC radio. It’s free. Just turn up for “Lemn Sissay’s Homecoming”.
Early afternoon Mesret Fikru drops in to the Hilton. Mesret adopted her son. She is a born mother – full of fire and warmth. ” I hate it when people say my baby is lucky” she says with a mischevious scowl “I am the lucky one!” We hang out.
Mesret (pic left) has kindly invited me to meet an Ethiopian man who made it his life mission to foster children and council with their birth families. We’ll meet him tomorrow night if I have time. I am acclimatising. My illness – I have a cold which I call an “illness” – is disappearing.
Mesret drops me at the British Council offices. It feels good to greet the staff. Tom Miscioscia is the the director. We discuss my Landmark Poem “Let There Be Peace” which will be erected on the wall later this year. I first met Tom when he arrived as the new director about a year ago. He is clearly at home in Addis having spent more time here than I have in my whole life.
In the early evening at last I meet Wuleta (my sister) and her closest friend Salome. Wuleta and Salome take me to Juventus, the Italian club, and we talk and eat ‘till late. Addis is in there DNA – that’s “Denna Neh” – they seem to know everyone.
Now I’m back at the Hilton. This hotel was opened by Emperor Haile Selassie. It is where my father partied in the heyday of Ethiopian Airlines. It were my mother had her wedding party with her husband Ashenafi Shifferaw. Many small things happened today. The pool attendants gave me flowers to welcome me back. An adopting mother called Rachel from the States stopped me and said “Know that you are making a difference”
I am addressed by kind strangers, Ethiopians and non Ethiopians alike. If you know my story you will now how extraordinary that is: How far I have traveled to hear my name spoken by strangers in my fathers and mothers country. How far I have come to respond at ease without feeling in some way inadequate or lost at sea. It’s been a full first day. How else should a day be? Is one lifetime enough to wash the spirit of all loss with the joy of acceptance? Yes it is.