Before telling you what happens next, one more point is worth mentioning. We had trained that summer of ‘62 for two months at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Ethiopian students studying in graduate schools in the United States had been hired to teach us Amharic, a totally hopeless task as I recall, but outside of class we could talk to them and learn about the real Ethiopia, lessons we didn’t think we were learning in our area studies of the Empire.
The Ethiopian language instructors painted an idealistic paradise of their homeland: of rural people living simple uncomplicated lives in quaint tukul hut villages; of an African nation that did not need the corruption of American know-how and progress, of Western values and ways.
Several weeks into our Georgetown Training a wave of doubt swept across that summer campus: Why were we going to Ethiopia to teach English to these happy people and destroy with our arrival their Brigadoon enchantment and way of life? While these Ethiopian graduate students were simply homesick and nostalgic about their homeland, there was also with many of us a lingering prejudice of what African was really like, fed by too many Johnny Weissmuller Tarzanmovies. It took several sessions by medical doctors lecturing on the low birth rates and high death rates, and the ravages of illnesses and diseases like schistosomiasis and Rift Valley Fever to cure us of those notions. That was why, in part, we were going to Ethiopia. It wasn’t as enchanting as we were led to believe.
I might add that I had two degrees in English Literature and one of my favorite periods was the Romantics, the whole idea of the Noble Savage and the corruption by western ways of the pure and the innocent.
I mention my state of mind only because there in the middle of Churchill Road, blocking progress with his spear and sword, was a living example of the Noble Savage holding progress and western values [as well its cars] at bay. It was all very symbolic.
Here was this fierce, wild-looking African straight out of a Tarzan movie [admittedly there are no jungles in the highlands of Ethiopia, and Tarzan movies were filmed on backlots in Hollywood, but never mind] It was the whole idea of the Noble Savage standing in the way of western ways that summed up my English Lit view of the world.
Then, of course, that literary notion was shattered with the arrival of the police and the Noble Savage escaped from the intersection, raced down into the gully on the other side of the road, disappeared into urban bush and underdeveloped land beyond a festering sewer of a creek that ran through the center of Addis Ababa.