Excerpt from There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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There Is No Me Without You

One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Her Country's Children

by Melissa Fay Greene

There Is No Me Without You
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 496 pages

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1

August 2004

On a dim, clattering afternoon in the rainy season, I sat in a crowded living room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, stupefied by water. The rain drumming the tin roofs of the hillside district was deafening, as if neighbors on rooftops banged with kettles and sticks. The mud yard boiled and popped in the downpour. Through the wide-open front door, I watched arriving visitors leap across stepping-stones slick with clay. At the doorstep of Haregewoin Teferra’s two-room brick house—an earthier, leakier dwelling than the modern two-story stucco house she’d once enjoyed—the men took off their hats and shook them and the women wrung out their shawls. Though Haregewoin was sliding further every day from her former middle-class standing, a dozen old friends opted to sit out the cloudburst with her—some as a sign of loyalty, some probably to see what she was going to do next. Despite misgivings about whom they might find among her guests, all entered beaming. They greeted everyone by handshake or raised eyebrows, dripped across the cement floor, and squeezed in to join the inactivity.

Ebullient and round, four foot eight, the hostess slapped across the wet floor in rubber flip-flops. Haregewoin Teferra (Ha-re-ge-woin Te-fare-uh) was a country-born, well-educated, bilingual woman in her late fifties. Her thick hair, bunched under a triangular kerchief, had sprung a few curlicues of gray. Her coffee-dark skin gleamed in the heat. She wore what she always wore: a long, leopard-print cotton skirt with an elastic waist, and a red, short-sleeve T-shirt. As each caller took a seat, Haregewoin hurried back to her chair and pitched forward brightly to hear the news. When she laughed, she clutched her hands to her chest and leaned back; her eyes crinkled shut and her shoulders jiggled.

This was no special occasion or holiday. Some of Haregewoin’s old friends had retired from work in retail or the professions; others were underemployed, simply unable—in Ethiopia’s listless economy—to fill their days with gainful activity. Still others had hidden reasons for their freedom to visit in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

One guest practically dared new arrivals to sit beside him. “Let’s see how far your good manners will get us” was the look on the face of Zewedu Getachew (Zoe-dew Ge-tah-chew) a once-handsome and affluent man. He had been director of construction for a French company and had taught engineering at Addis Ababa University. The shoulders of his khaki overcoat were angrily bunched up less against the rain, it seemed, than against the trick life had played him, the change in his health status that had cost him his job and good name.

Across the continent, people were lining up by the millions on one side or the other of a new binary system, being told they were “positive” or “negative” as if they had turned overnight into protons and electrons and everyone spoke of subatomic physics, rather than of who was going to live and who was going to be shunned, endure terrible suffering, and die.

Only Haregewoin, among many friends who had once hosted Zewedu, still welcomed him. He tilted far back on a metal-legged kitchen chair with his arms crossed on his chest, not expecting to be offered a handshake, nor offering one. Unshaved whiskers darkened his cheeks.

A humble and pretty young woman, wearing a long skirt, seated herself on a low stool to roast fresh coffee beans. She shook them in an iron skillet over a portable stove. Sara had been expelled from college during her sophomore year and denounced by her parents when her persistent cough had turned out to be not only tuberculosis (at which point her parents had bundled her up and raced around with her to the best doctors) but something unspeakable (when they evicted her). The lessons in subservience drilled into most Ethiopian girls did not prepare a young person for finding herself alone in the city; Sara was huddled in a doorway when Haregewoin found her. Haregewoin knew—even if Sara did not—that the college girl’s options might soon be a choice between begging or the sex trade.

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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