“Mister Drainpipe” takes the reader into the mind of a deranged, older homeless man who can no longer recall his past identity and calls himself “Drainpipe” after the dank lodging in which he discovered many years before. When not begging for his daily “injera”, he spends his hours babbling senselessly and scaring women and children. These babblings are interrupted by rare moments of lucidity, however, as he considers the passersby and asks at one point:
Why did people who had so much grow tired of giving a few santimes?
This question frames a narrative that unfolds as part mystery, part searing indictment of how we treat (or totally ignore) the “least of us” in society. Indeed it only takes one small act of kindness, to arrest Drainpipe’s descent into madness and fundamentally change his life’s arc. As the net of generosity grows, Secchia’s Ethiopian characters offer sharp insight into the broader issues of endemic poverty noting that: “until we are able to address the fundamental restoration of human will and dignity, no program, no effort and no intervention, will truly succeed.” These observations land poignantly as they are balanced against the reality of a man for whom no program, effort, or intervention has helped.
Will Drainpipe rediscover and recapture his dignity and past identity? This question is answered against the backdrop of Ethiopia’s history over the past 75 years. One learns not only of the Derg’s genocidal horrors, but also the oblivious Emperor’s rule that let hundreds of thousands perish in famine. This history further covers both the unlikely ascension of Abiy Ahmed to the position of Prime Minister, as well as the efforts of the controversial activist Jawar Mohammed. Along the way, Secchia also treats the foreign reader with cultural insights that both educate and enlighten such as the use of the feminine in greeting between two males to denote a special and close friendship (i.e., Dehna-nesh, my brother?). It’s clear through this story that the author has a heart for not only Ethiopia as a country, but for its people, great and small.
As we follow Drainpipe’s journey, we see the miraculous, contagious power of generosity but we also see the hard work and personal sacrifice it requires. As Drainpipe notes near the story’s end: “it is strange how easily one forgets miracles.”
Related Ethiopian Reading:
The Shadow King
Beneath the Lion's Gaze
See our 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.
But now and again there might be a treasure. A smile. A kind greeting; not the automatic or guilty sort, but a genuine word. A murmured blessing. The brushing of fingertips against his upraised palm to give a coin rather than just to toss it toward his mat. These moments mattered.
Was the whole city one big diseased organ waiting to seize up?
The irony of severe water shortages in a country that supplied an estimated eighty-five percent of the water of the Nile, while Egypt built rice paddies in the desert.
History would record something about this year, 1985, in facts and figures and charts. They would agree how awful it all was. People would be unable to believe this had once been a green and fertile land, and too soon, the international news media would turn to another issue. Another need. Another disaster. And these faces would be lost forever.
People kissed hands or cheeks all the time when they were especially grateful. Maybe that wasn’t Oromo culture – he did not know – but it certainly was his, just like the shoulder bump signified informality and friendship.
And we use the feminine suffix to indicate a special fondness for someone. So I might say dehna-nesh rather than dehna-neh to tell someone that they’re my special friend. Dehna-nesh, my brother?”
Inibila, or ‘let’s eat together,’ meant unity. In the same way, Irreecha was a peaceful celebration of the year which had been, a time to thank Waaqa, or God, for one’s blessings. It was meant to be a time of thanksgiving and unity for the Oromo people.
“Under brutal suppression during the reign of Menelik II and subsequent regimes, Oromo cultural and religious gatherings were outlawed for over a century. However, in the last decade there has been a concerted revival of important Oromo practises, particularly at the Irreecha religious festival on the shores of Hora Harsadii, or Lake Hora. The deep values underpinning a uniquely Oromo worldview which are celebrated at Irreecha include peace and stability, abundance and provision for life, the preservation of law and order, and protection of the environment. These values describe the Oromummaa, or the core identity of Oromos.”
Why did people who had so much grow tired of giving a few santimes?
Their cars were 30 to 40 years old and required constant nursing and tinkering. After the Communist revolution, he remembered, cars used to be imported from the USSR – the little Ladas, which were renamed Fiat 131s. Few people could tell the difference, so everyone called them ‘Lada.’ The city’s lifeblood ran blue. The little Ladas were painted a cheerful blue colour with a white roof, as were the bulkier minibus taxis which were licensed to run regular routes in the city. They carried anything and everything on their roofs, from fridges to boxes to the odd goat bound for a family celebration.
The bars quietened.
‘Until we are able to address the fundamental restoration of human will and dignity, no program, no effort and no intervention, will truly succeed.’
Licking his fingertips despite the rudeness of the gesture. He left no portion upon the plate to politely indicate satiation and the host’s excellent provision, but
How could a man mourn for what he had forgotten? Only that his interior felt hollow.
What a droll expression. Tafa, was how friends greeted each other after a long separation. ‘You disappeared.’
Touching the instrument to his dry, cracked lips, he let the music run through him like a river.
Every person, from the lowest to the highest, should be afforded dignity. It’s a travesty of our society that we strip people of self-respect and opportunity, and treat them as outcasts. Dignity is the air and water of life. You need to rediscover your dignity, Tuhbo.”
If abstinence made the heart grow fonder
“Egzharbier ystillyn. I cannot thank you – how can I thank you? Egzharbier ystillyn … it still doesn’t say enough.”
Midday was not the hottest time of the day, but rather nine in the afternoon, according to Ethiopian time-telling which counted dawn as the ‘zero’ and midday as the sixth hour. Foreigners would say three o’clock.
And then came Nelson Mandela – did you know he has an Ethiopian passport? He received it in 1962 under the name of David Motsamayi, when he trained here in our country in guerrilla warfare.
and now he vividly recalled watching Timket in Gondar at Fasiledes’ Bath, a unique ceremony where the Orthodox believers leaped fully clothed into the waters of a huge pool surrounding that small medieval castle.
Toxic history required healing.
Tuhbo remembered the legend of the negarit, the great Ethiopian drum hollowed out of a baobab tree that was meant to be heard fifty kilometres away!
Always rumours, or wiray in Amharic, the word-of-mouth that often served best – or worst when the media was tightly controlled and real journalism, curtailed.
Some stones were only ever lifted by laughing at oneself.
“Y’zare injerachinen,” she agreed, quoting from the Lord’s Prayer. Our daily injera.
Fikir Indegena – Love Again.
He used the Amharic form meliaki, my angel, the fonder, more personal term – a term sometimes used as a nickname or endearment between lovers.
But it is strange how easily one forgets miracles.