Finding Joy - Adriana Herrera
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I felt it. The something in the air my mom always mentioned when she talked about Addis.
I looked around the crowd waiting for the recent arrivals as I hefted my huge backpack, searching for a big white head of hair. “À la Don King” my mother had said when she described Tefare, my parents’ old driver from when they first lived here almost thirty years ago—who was picking me up tonight. I finally spotted a man with a mass of fluffy gray hair in the back, and walked over. I kept my eye on Tefare, who was scanning the crowd as he held up a sign that read MR. WALKER.
I stepped up to him, extending my hand “Tefare. It’s me, Desta.”
Immediately he threw his arms out and pulled me in for an elaborate hug. We bumped shoulders on either side and clapped each other’s backs for what felt like minutes.
“Desta, you look just like your mama. How is my friend Fatima? Does she still make that delicious meat soup?”
I smiled at the mention of sancocho; my mother told me that Tefare had been a devoted fan of the Dominican stew whenever she made it in the old days.
I shook my head at his question as we walked together to the parking lot. “She doesn’t make it that much anymore. She’s vegan now. Only eats fasting food.”
He gasped like I’d told him she’d given up eating altogether. “Only fasting food. No meat?”
I grinned at the shock in his voice. “No meat,” I repeated as Tefare shook his head in silence, like the whole situation was too far gone to comment on.
When we got to the car, he made a big show of taking the backpack from me and putting it in the trunk. “Let me help you with this, Desta. It’s too heavy for you.”
I laughed because Tefare was not much taller than my five-foot-nine and had to be pushing seventy, but I let him win and handed him my massive backpack. Once we had my two bags securely in the back of the car, he pulled a hat out of his suit jacket pocket and perched it on his head. It was a 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series Championship hat, which looked exactly like the one my dad had been wearing the last time I saw him leaving for the airport on his way here.
I pointed at his head, smiling. “I recognize that.”
Tefare clicked his tongue at my words, the happy, open expression from before replaced with genuine sorrow. “Your papa gave it to me on that last trip. I was waiting for him just like I waited for you tonight, and the first thing he did was take the hat off his head and put it on my mine. He said, ‘Tefare, our guys finally won.’” Tefare’s smile was a wistful thing, and I realized that my time in Ethiopia would probably be filled with moments like this.
“When your papa and mama first came here, there were only a couple of places where they could see the baseball games, and I would drive them there,” my father’s old friend explained, his eyes faraway, like he was recalling those times. “After a while he’d invite me to watch with them and taught me the rules. Paul made me a Red Sox fan for life.”
Tefare and I stood there for a moment in the cold Addis night, lost in our memories of my father. Eventually he pushed off the side of the car where he’d been leaning and grunted, squeezing my shoulder. “I miss my friend.”
I nodded, working on speaking through the knot in my throat. “We miss him too.” It was hard to know what else to say. The moment felt too big for platitudes, and I’d learned years ago that when it came to grief, words usually didn’t do much.
Tefare tapped the top of the car, then waved toward the passenger side. “Eshi, Desta, let’s get you to the guest house.”
I smiled when I heard him say eshi. It was like the equivalent of “okay” in Amharic and my dad would always tease me, saying it’d been my favorite word as a baby. “I’m ready. I’m tired of airports.”
He stopped then and looked at me over the roof of the car, his expression mischievous. “Are you hungry?”
I braced for what I knew was coming.
“I don’t know if I can find any injera and ketchup for you right