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Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Driving stories from Ethiopia to Portland

Kids in American schools make surprised noises to hear that the enormous continent of Africa even has cities.  They gasp to see photos like this one I took last time I was in Nairobi, Kenya.

When I was a teenager, Addis Ababa was a fun city to get around.  Change was in the air–I was waiting for a movie to begin and people began to boo when the American flag unfurled on the screen–but the city wasn’t the bustling, huge place it is today.  A taxi ride cost 25 cents and the snorting red buses were 15 cents.  It was easy to get to the pizza place (wood oven, delicious Italian recipes), the bowling alley, the Chinese restaurant, the Omar Kyam restaurant, the markato, and any other place between my house and where I went to school with an assortment of kids who called all kinds of places home: America, Ethiopia, Indonesia, various African countries, Holland, and more.

Since I had grown up in rural Ethiopia in a place of no paved roads and no stores, this new world was pretty thrilling.   But there was no possibility that I would drive in Addis Ababa.  Around Maji, I only ever saw three vehicles…navigated by my dad and the local governor and the local police.  Addis Ababa had plenty of vehicles, including the small bus we rode in across town to school every weekday, the little blue Fiat taxis and lumbering buses that I used whenever I wasn’t riding my bike or walking.


Every five years, we flew to America.


Road trip!

After my dad finished his business in New York City, it was time to set out for Iowa, where my mom’s mom and sister lived and then onward to Oregon where my dad’s family was.  Once again, of course, we kids didn’t drive.  I didn’t even get a driver’s license until I was in my twenties and had lived without one in places little and big…Monmouth, Illinois; Washington DC; Pittsburgh; and Chicago.


Bring on the latest road trip.

Last week’s move began on the prairies, where cows could sometimes be spotted out in the open but more often were huddled under the occasional tree and even billboards for a wee bit of shade.

After all, temperatures of over a hundred degrees make humans drippy and tired and probably don’t feel great if you have fur all over your body, either.

This time we went a little bit south of the route we took on our last drive out to Oregon.

Goodbye to the sunflower state.

Hello to Colorful Colorado, where we had to find an oil cap to replace the one that the people who serviced the car in Lawrence forgot to put back on when they were done.

That little jaunt added a few extra hours.

The car was stuffed to the gills.

So was our little trailer that trundled along behind.

This time, we managed to make it through most of wide Wyoming without having to drive through pounding rain, although the wind was fierce for one of the days.

Some states sure take forever to get across.

But the long and winding road has its treasures all the way through Wymong and Utah, and NPR reception hardly ever fails, even through stretches where a traveler doesn’t see any buildings or people or even cows.

That makes for varied music and interesting conversation and analysis across the miles.

Our furniture and books were meanwhile making their way in their pods on a truck.

We stopped in places where covered wagons also stopped.  It’s always amazing to think of what that journey must have been like….months and months instead of days on the road, watching mountains that lifted out of the plains but never seemed to get any closer.  No wonder some people, including my ancestors, stopped right at the Idaho-Oregon line rather than continuing all the way to Portland.

But we kept going.

Now, for the first time, I have to learn to drive in a city.

4 thoughts on “Driving stories from Ethiopia to Portland”

  1. Hello and welcome back to Oregon, Jane. I found my way here through my good blogging friend, Amy Butler Greenfield. I’m a writer in the Portland area and am looking forward to following your blog and perhaps getting a chance to meet up with you someday. All the best for your new adventures here in beautiful Oregon.

    Lorraine Thomas


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