Sacred literature in both Israel and Ethiopia describes Queen Makedas visit to the king of Israel. The Queen of Sheba heard of Solomons fame ... and she came to test him with hard questions, reads I Kings, chapter 10, in the Hebrew Bible. She arrived in Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels bearing spices, a great quantity of gold, and precious stones.
This Queen of the South was very beautiful in face, and her stature was superb, says the ancient Ethiopian holy text Kebra Nagast [The Glory of Kings]. Her understanding and intelligence which God had given her were of such high character that she went to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Makeda, known to the outside world as the Queen of Sheba, married Solomon, and they had a son: Menelik, founder of the Ethiopian kingship (thus, through the twentieth century, Ethiopian kings claimed Davidic descent).
The parasols, spinning like kaleidoscopes above the dusty crowded streets, sparkle with ancient secrets.
The traditional and the modern swirl together like this everywhere. A shepherd steers his ratty-looking sheep along the edges of the manicured, sloping lawn of the palatial Sheraton Addis Hotel. A hand-lettered sign in a shop announces WE RENT MOTORBIKES, CAMELS. On the road to Zoia, a motorcade of semitrailers is stopped by a proud, skittish procession of Afar camels and nomads: the men, with long curls knotted under bright head scarves, jog alongside their animals, waving sticks and yelling, oblivious to the trucks idling on the highway before them. On a hard-baked plain, a hundred miles south of electricity, a young goatherd stands in a field, holding a wooden staff and wearing a T-shirt with the Boston Red Sox baseball logo. And one day I glimpsed a shepherd and his sheep hitching a ride out of Addis on the top of an oil tanker. They straddled the silver missile and hung on for dear life, the mans hair and the animals wool blown back in the wind.
Selamneh steered pell-mell through the wild traffic, throwing us from side to side in the backseat. Children roamed the streets, tapping on our car windows to offer packets of tissue, or individual eggs, or upside-down live chickens for sale. Nearly two thirds of school-age children are not in school in Ethiopia, nearly the worst record in the world, and only 41 percent of adults can read. Boys and girls in V-necked maroon or sky-blue school sweaters (no matter how ragged) are the envy of dustier, unschooled children. The uniformed ones swing their notebooks and parade down the sidewalks in laughing, gossiping bunches, full of optimism and expectation, confident that their uniforms and notebooks will add up to something.
They will feel happy until one-half year or one year after high school graduation, Selamneh told me. Then they will begin to realize something is wrong. The urban unemployment rate here is also one of the worst in the world. Leaning against buildings and walls, sharing cigarettes, watching the horsing around of high school students only a few years younger than themselves, are listless young men, endlessly waiting, increasingly shabby, who finished school and then fell into an idleness from which there is no escape.
Adult beggars of every description tapped at the car windows. Nursing mothers did this, wordlessly indicating the babies within their dusty shawls; and a man with six fingers on each hand displayed his hands to idling motorists until they threw coins at him to make him go away. A man with leprosy displayed an arm that ended in a charcoal-like stump. Another turned a face disfigured by burns. A man lay on a sidewalk displaying a hugely swollen, gangrenous leg from which the foot had been amputated; it was huge as a fallen tree trunk, red and peeling. A woman at the car window showed a face swallowed by an eye tumor, and a young boy led his blind grandfather from car to car. It was a walking sideshow, a living testimony to the statistics: 81 percent of Ethiopias people live on less than two dollars a day, and 26 percent live on less than a dollar a day, the marker of absolute poverty in the world.
Excerpted from There Is No Me Without You, (c) 2006 Melissa Fay Greene. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA/Walker & Co. All rights reserved.
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