Day Three and sleep still evades me.
As my mind and body ache for a hint of rest, I can think of a myriad of reasons why, instead of sleeping, I have my laptop propped up in bed acting as a magnet for aggressive mosquitoes that find their way under the bed net. Repetitive music hypnotically blares outside the window as people yell back and forth to each other late into the night. Frequent footsteps outside of my sleep room door beckon for attention and my 18 year old daughter Brynn sleeps peacefully next to me, her breathing almost syncing perfectly with the music.
I look at my daughter.
These past few days were not as I expected, which is true about any other time I have spent in Africa. I have come to plan for the occasional lost luggage, flight cancellations, missed communication and long confusing waits. But this time I suppose I do have fantasies of mother-daughter bonding occurring as we tenderly experience a new part of the world together. Instead, we are bickering like cats after our long flights and spending the night staring at the ceiling in the Nairobi airport “dungeon” (as it is affectionately called by ex-pats). Anything I advise her is fodder for heated debate, and when I allow my frustration to escalate, it only catapults the tension. I realize it is only Day Three, and experience informs me not to get hyped up about anything that happens during the sleep deprived and cultural shift transition period.
But this angst about Brynn is not what is keeping me awake, nor are the sounds coming from the bathroom that eerily sound like a gigantic fang-toothed rodent coming up from the sewer.
It is that girl in the museum.
I saw her from the corner of my eye as we looked at artifacts in the National Museum in Addis Ababa this afternoon. She stood there, right in the center of the room, and stared at us, as though we were from another life time. Left arm crossing her body to clutch her other arm, she looked braced and strong. Her arms were hidden by dozens of gold bracelets pressed tightly into her skin. But it was the glee in her eyes that caught my attention. She looked giddy as she unflinchingly stared at Brynn’s blond hair. When my eyes caught hers, instead of becoming shy and looking away, she seemed to lock in harder with her gaze, and with this, she looked like she was from another galaxy. Or that she knew something very sacred that we did not know, living in our Western haughty ways.
I could not refrain myself from staring, and this did not seem to bother her in the least. She stood tall, muscles rippling down her arms and legs from hard work of some kind. Her head was shaven, and tiny scars lined her skull in a swirling pattern. Her ear lobes were dangling long, with wide open circles where her gauges once were.
She was one of the most mesmerizing persons I have ever seen. She somehow seemed to exist outside of her body. A spirit in the flesh.
Her curiosity about Brynn was fearless, and as we made our way from room to room, we could feel the magnetic force that was in the room. Our friend and guide Seyoum identified her as most likely being from Southern Ethiopia villages, and as he started to tell me more about this part of the culture, I found myself not able to hear him even though I wanted to know everything about her tribe. The visual of her was overwhelming any other sense. I turned my eyes toward Brynn, and could see the same level of wonderment coming from her. As the girl stood firm, I slowly walked over to her and said hello as best as I could without words, reaching my hand out to her and holding eye contact way longer than is comfortable for my cultural influence. I heard a catch in her voice as she tried to bridge the gap between our languages, her words barely audible. I motioned for Brynn to come over and I silently watched as they shook hands, giggling nervously.
Mankind began here in Ethiopia and this girl seemed to wear that distinction in her every gesture. Yet here she was, enchanted with Brynn’s exoticism. This haunts me at this late hour for some reason, and I wonder: what could she possibly see in us that we don’t see? With her grace and level of ability to engage, I felt that we were far less interesting, and coming from our expedited Western culture, that we could not see humanity such as she could from the vantage point of the heart. I felt humbled by her, and a tinge of longing crept in as I knew we couldn’t follow her and learn more from her.
As Brynn lies curled up next to me now, I think about her and our mother-daughter complexity that mirrors us together and propels us apart as she begins to lead her own life without my constant oversight. Through the Ethiopian girl’s gestures and honor toward toward Brynn, I realize something. I think I can see my daughter more closely from afar.