Tuesday, March 9, 2004


My mother had just survived one of the great frights of her early-married life. She and Dad were living in Addis Alem and received many neighborhood guests; many came to satisfy their curiosity, some brought gifts. This was how my mother received a large ape that looked like a baboon.

The ape seemed content to stay in the high trees with long low limbs. My mother was checking on the progress in the cook’s house one day, when nearing the cook, she felt a great weight descend on her shoulders, straddling her. The ape seemed to enjoy her screams and climbed back into his tree. Another morning he was observing a mother hen and her downy chicks walking under his tree. What could be more fun than to take each little chick to walk on his branches? Their peeping alerted everyone as to where they had been safely placed. What happened to the ape is a mystery, but as far as I know, he returned to his friends in the Jim Jam Forest.

Then there was the happy day when mother accompanied the cook to the market in Addis. She walked through the big gate with a pet for her daughters, Shirley now six, and Jane now seven. “This is your new lamb,” she explained. The other adults who were visiting, and our teacher, Mae Matthews, assured my mother that this lamb would never become a sheep. They were amazed that a person who had grown up on a farm in Iowa could even think that this goat was a sheep. “But," said my mother defending herself, "they told me at the market that this is what all Ethiopian lambs looked like.” The goat could leap any rosebush, make havoc of the large garden, and eat every blossom in sight. It would rush at us with lowered head to give us a playful nudge. It was retired to the property at Addis Alem where we could later visit her and her family of small kids.

The chimpanzee belonged to Shirley. There was no doubt that! She played with it as though it were a baby. Once she dressed it in doll clothes. At that point, the chimp had had enough. It climbed out of the doll buggy and scampered out of reach into the nearest tree. The doll dress, bonnet, shoes and diaper dropped to the ground. Enough was enough!

Then there was our pony, a gift from Mr. Cramp at the American Embassy. (Maybe it was a peace offering. I had earlier made some unflattering remarks about Mr. Cramp’s large nose.) My sister and I awaited its delivery on the stonewall. It seemed like hours before the pony came down the dirt road and into our compound. Without hesitation, Shirley called the pony “Beauty.” Her reason, she said, because he was so ugly. She chose to ride Beauty whenever possible, but Beauty would not tolerate even a small blond rider. He would rush over to one of the many rose hedges and dash his rider into the roses. Beauty, it turned out, also migrated to greener pastures in Addis Alem.

By now the war had been over for a year, and we had another family, the Ossent’s, living in the guesthouse. Wonder of wonders, they had two girls, Verena and Erika. They had been outside Addis when the city had been burned and their father’s Agriculture Station was destroyed. For some reason we called Verena “Butzilie.”
Susie, a precious little deer, was another story. Where she came from is a mystery, but she was very small, could drink from a baby bottle, and followed us everywhere and bleated for attention. All four of us loved Susie. Shirley and Butzilie were especially attentive. One day they decided that Susie needed a long overdue bath. Susie submitted to the generous sudsing, but just when the bath water appeared, she was slippery enough to make a mad dash for freedom. She found the nearest mud puddle and rolled to her heart’s content. Of course, as Susie grew, so did her love for our garden, and her ability to jump over the fence. As a consequence, a new pet made the trip to Addis Alem.

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