The birth of URBAMORPHOSIS

Two African photographers, one Ethiopian and the other Congolese, embarked on a project to document the immense changes taking place in the new flower, a birth city for one and a city that the other has come to love as his own – Addis.

For those of you who’ve been following this blog, you know I’m the Ethiopian. The one who was birthed in what is referred to as the capital of Africa. Addis Ababa is not only the city of my birth, it’s the city I grew up in, left and came back to 14 years later. It’s a city I’m relearning and getting acquainted with. It’s the city that has safeguarded the remains of my ancestors, but sometimes also thrown them up whole to make way for ‘development’. It’s a city that accommodates both old and new – although much of the old seems to be giving way to the new.

I’ve wanted to put on a photo exhibition for a long time – it’s been one of those items on my bucket list I wasn’t ever sure I would cross off. Then John comes along and pushes this idea of capturing the skeletons of Addis. Why not? If I had to start somewhere, it should be by paying tribute to the city that birthed and raised me. So there you have it – the birth of URBAMORPHOSIS!

As we took these images, we journeyed through Addis, conscious and witness to its past, its present and its looming future. The Addis we knew, or even know today is not the same Addis that will be tomorrow. The only constant being change.

This project forced me to see the city differently. Everywhere I looked, I could see the cityscape dominated by new high rises, even the most iconic of Addis’ treasures was framed by construction – and destruction.

This project aims to capture some of the rapid transformation taking place in this city. For both of us, it is a tribute to the people who are constantly negotiating their place in this new flower and to the city which is forever trying to outpace its name.

URBAMORPHOSIS kicks off a week from today on Thursday, May 11th, 2017 at Dinq Art Gallery in Addis Ababa. We hope you’ll come out and experience for yourself.

Flyer - URBAMORPHOSIS

11 Rules of the Streets


1. Don’t look in the direction of the approaching car. If you must, and you see a car coming, cross. Particularly when not at a zebra crossing. That’s the only way to assert oneself and gain respect on the streets of this city.

2. Occupy as many lanes as you can. Swaddle, at a minimum, between two lanes. You know you’re doing what you’re meant to when you’ve frustrated the living daylights out of the driver behind you.

3. Don’t indicate. If you do, do so at the last minute when you’re already making a turn. How much advance notice does one need, anyways?

4. Put your hand out of your window for a guaranteed yield from drivers behind and to the right of you. You can throw in a thumbs up if you please, but that has less to do with their volition and more to do with your bullyish behavior, which we encourage.

5. When stopping to pick up pedestrians, feel free to stop your vehicle where you see fit. Don’t bother yourself looking for a space closest to the curb so as not to hold up traffic. In fact, try and aim for the middle of the street. It’s always fun seeing cars trying to maneuver around you.

6. Don’t give way to another car, particularly one driven by a woman. Hurl insults at her, both subtle and explicit depending on the situation and your mood. None of them know how to drive anyway. They should’ve never been allowed on these streets. As long as they’re there though, make their driving experiences hell.

7. Don’t allow pedestrians to cross the street, even if they’re at a zebra crossing. Show ’em who’s the boss of the streets.

8. If you’re a diplomat or have a diplomatic license, or that of the defense forces, drive like a maniac. No-one will dare stop you, and even if they did, just flash your credentials. Don’t they know you have license to disobey?

9. Once you’re done with a bottle, or a banana, feel free to throw it out the window. The streets will welcome your trash, with open arms. Be warned, though – the streets will sometimes throw it back at you – especially if your window is still open.

10. As you pass a driver that’s been acting a fool on the streets, stare him/her down. Glare as hard as you can. That will be sure to get them to act right on the roads.

11. If you’re a pedestrian, don’t limit yourself to the pedestrian walkways. The streets are your oyster baby. Claim them. This may be the only place you can!

9 Rules of the House


1. Pick up the phone when it rings. Don’t let it ring too long. Interrupt whatever you’re doing, be it eating, having a deep conversation, bathing, driving to answer. If you miss the call, call right back. Don’t allow time to lapse. That would be irresponsible.

2. Be perky and upbeat at all times. What reason have you not to be? You have not been scolded or beaten. Don’t give anyone reason to.

3. Always be doing something. Rest only when sick or incapacitated. Or if you’ve just given birth. Then it’s allowed. Otherwise, idleness is the workshop of the devil. Some part of your body must be moving – your hands, your feet… Something!

4. Be available at all times for whatever may arise. Work hours are the only exceptions. And even so, only formal work hours between 8 and 5, Monday to Friday. The work that you do beyond those hours is your own doing and is still factored into your hours of availability.

5. Eating is obligatory. Skipping meals is abomination. Eating greens only insults our culture and our ancestors. Meat must be consumed, and in hearty proportions.

6. Show emotion and empathy. Failure to do so is demonstrative of your inability to be human or tap into your humanity.

7. Laugh, but not too loud. Everything must be in moderation. Don’t speak too loud, but not too soft either…You’re not a mouse. Speaking of which, the walls have mice so don’t go around saying whatever comes to your mind. Be tactful in your speech. Know who’s in the house when speaking and even who’s not as our walls are thin.

8. Wake early. There is no known or proven benefit to staying late and waking late. Just as idleness is the workshop of the devil, so is laziness. The world must not pass you by while you snooze your life away.

9. Trust no-one. No further explanation needed but keep rule #7 in mind

2016 Reflections


As 2016 comes to a close, it’s hard to believe that another 365 days has sped past.

It’s been a year of many firsts. First time on the third floor, first trip to Latin America, first paraglide, first short story being written for publishing, first hot air balloon in Ethiopia, first time to The Gambia, Tunisia and Nigeria, first time back in Harar since 2008…It’s been a first full year in Addis after having been away for 14 years. Although that year has been punctuated with many hours in the skies zig zagging across the globe. From Banjul to Abuja, Vegas to Rio, Foz do Iguazu to Cape Town, Tunis to Delhi, Dubai to Accra, Jinja to Nairobi. Arusha to LA.

It’s been a year that has witnessed the death of a family member, as well as a stroke in one side of the family and confirmation of breast cancer on another. Still I count my blessings and am reminded to care for our health and never take a day for granted – though I must confess I still do.

Many lessons learnt in 2016, but here are six:

1. No condition is permanent – let this be a reminder when we get arrogant and complacent in good times, and a way to lift our spirits when we despair in bad times.

2. Count your blessings – we can either choose to moan about the thorns on the roses or delight that thorns have roses. We will never run out of things to complain about or be miserable about. But we must always step back and count our blessings, they’re equally countless.

3. Never say never – life has a way of making you eat up your words. We plan but the Almighty plans better. We should be prepared to roll with the punches and punch back if need be, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

4. Stop procrastinating. Don’t wait for tomorrow’s which may never come. Do what you can now. As a friend keeps reminding me, time is more than money.

5. Explore. The world has so much to offer. The more you trot, the more you realize how much more there is to discover. Be hungry for more but find contentment along the way.

6. Breathe, and better yet breathe beauty. The news in 2016 has shown us how ugly this world can be. We realize however that it is equally beautiful. May we counter all the hate with love and all the ugly with beauty. Do this in small and big ways. Don’t wait for extraordinary, celebrate and appreciate the small things, all day every day.

May we live compassionately, love passionately and breathe beauty for the rest of our days. Happy 2017.

Touchdown



My stomach always fluttered as the tires got closer to the tarmac. I wondered if this time it would be an abrupt kiss, almost as though the tires were too presumptuous, assuming the tarmac wanted to be kissed. If it didn’t, it was almost as though it would reject the kiss, and the lips that went too far, causing the whole plane to bump up and down.
Sometimes, but not too often, the kiss was so subtle it couldn’t be felt. Smooth, as though both rubber and tarmac were mutual in their desire for each other and effortlessly came together.

Most of the time, it felt rushed. As though the two were lusting after each other and couldn’t wait a second more. The plane then met the ground with a thud, but stayed on the ground, as if glued to it and unable to break away.

Hold on

Is it selfish of me to ask you to hold on –

Till the seas have been crossed, 

Body in a land I’ve never known

You in this state hastened my meeting of it
Can you hold on?

Till my eyes have a chance to take you in

Till I can breathe every part of your being 

So I may tell the lil ones stories about you
I so look forward to an extension of the past 

Brought to life through your tales, which I will soak up, especially those of him
It was your stories that I hoped would fill the pages…

I pray they still can

Hold on,

So we fill them 

Together 

São Paulo Bus Stop Musings


Desculpa,
Eu não falo Portuguese
Conversations held at the mercy of Google translate
Experiment she says,
And I understand she means taste,
So I indulge

Being schooled on Ethiopia
By a Haitian in Brazil…
Only in this world

Respect revenged with disrespect
Waving to a stranger
Who returns the courtesy with uncalled for cat calls
That henceforth go ignored

Inappropriate words
You let pass you by
Perhaps because lost in translation
But perhaps more so because
You never know what sets off the schizophrenia

Deceiving façade
Dancing waters
Layered gardens
Green walls
Hanging pots

Befriended by a couple in their 20s
Enchanted by rooftop views
Italy and Brazil meet in Ireland
To learn English…
Only in this world

Drug stores on every corner
Arts spill into the streets here
Color and commentary guide

Too many languages competing in my head
You have to chew your words here
Trabalho as art
Living is art
Art is living

Don’t Capture, Live

My battery dies on me. As I often have a backup, I reach for it – only to realize I don’t have it on me. My second instinct is to reach for my phone, which has a pretty decent camera and is much easier to lug around! My phone is dead as well.

I start to get antsy. So many images/moments/monuments that I want to immortalize on film (is it technically film any more?), and I can’t. Or perhaps I can.

Perhaps I can just relax and be present. Enjoy and breathe in all the sights — immortalize them in my memory.

As you can tell, I have mixed feelings about photography. On the one hand, I love it. I picture a frame in my head long before I reach for the camera. I can envision the photo before the click. I want to freeze laughter, natural moments and small but precious beauties, and feel that photography allows me to do so. I love looking back at old photos of people and eras who are no longer. Sometimes photos (accompanied by stories) are the only way for us to relive or experience or get to know those people and the moments and lives they’ve lived. 

On the other hand, I sometimes feel I’m so focused on capturing the moment that I miss it. I miss fully and profoundly experiencing it, without something between me and the object or event to be experienced.

As technology advances, and especially with the advent of various online mediums (including Snapchat which I refuse to catch on to) and selfies (which I pray people will have enough of and get over), many of us have stopped living without our gadgets. Or perhaps more accurately, with our gadgets, we’ve stopped living. We’re obsessed with documenting our lives — frame by frame — so much so that I wonder if we’re living them any longer.

Having said all this, I write this as I sit on the 41st floor of Edificio Italia, which I have no doubt has one of the most (if not THE most) incredible panoramic view of São Paulo. I’ve witnessed the day wind down, the sun dip, the city lights slowly turn on as the sky darkens….the imagery itself is sufficient poetry.

Ofcourse I’m dying to capture all this beauty, and wish I could, and have even attempted all manner of tricks to revive my battery. I also understand, however, the message the universe is trying to get through to me.

Some moments and views are meant to be lived, not captured.

Hide & Seek


The sun plays hide and seek
Hiding behind cloud’s shadows
Frustrated clouds burst into tears

The sun’s playful ‘peekaboo’
Puts an abrupt stop to the sporadic tears

Both oblivious to the effect of their childish play on the crowd below,
Bewildered by the psychsofrenic nature of events.

The sky smiles at the sight,
Flashing its colorful teeth

30 Years, 30 Lessons


It was perhaps apt that the big 30 was ushered in on three continents. Celebrated simply but beautifully surrounded by loved ones.

Here are some lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to be goofy and have fun. If it’s pretending to be the tickle monster with a set of 4 year old twins or 8 year old munchkins, do it. Chase them, tickle them and savor their uncontained laughter that emenates deep from their bellies. You’ll find that soon you will also be echoing their laughter. Watch cartoons. Play. Unapologetically. These are the moments that make you younger and bring out the kid in you. Don’t be afraid to experience them.

2. Have a bucket list. Write down the things you think are even far fetched and impossible. You’ll be surprised how the universe conspires to make your intentions come to pass. Especially when you speak (and write) them loudly to the universe.

3. The best time is often now. Don’t leave things for later or tomorrow. There’s a Hareri saying which I’m sure is echoed elsewhere that says, ‘later is the brother of never’ or something along those lines…later or tomorrow either don’t happen or are consumed by 101 other things

4. Breathe Beauty. By this I mean that one must seek and appreciate beauty in ordinary spaces and moments. Beauty is not perfection. It simply is. We must be awake to it. It’s all around us. It’s the rays of the sun streaming into a room and resting on someone’s face…it’s the petals of a bright flower…it’s a full or partial moon that seems to light up the sky…it’s a pattern on a dress…or a colorful street…or laughter

5. I’ve realized how happy it makes me to see (teenage) kids who respect, love, appreciate and honor their parents. As parents, we must treat our kids as though they are responsible members of the family whose viewpoints are sought, heard and acknowledged. As children, we must never dismiss the difficulty of being a parent, making decisions that are unpopular and living every day for the betterment of family. Keep family ties – there’s nothing like family.

6. There are friendships that are so deep and pure and real that they turn into family. Don’t take them for granted. They don’t come along often. Treasure them and feed and care for them. They are often what keep you sane.

7. Learn to spend time alone. No matter what kind of person you are, whether ambivalent, introverted or extroverted – this is important. Learn to be ok with silence when there’s no loud company or loud music or chatter to distract you from listening to and getting to know and be at peace with yourself. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to be?

8. Go with your first instinct. Don’t second guess yourself. This is true even when the contradicting voice is external and not internal. You’ll be happy you weren’t easily swayed later on.

9. Similar to the previous one, don’t be afraid to counter the dominant or mainstream. Don’t necessarily rebel for the sake of being different but understand that being different, holding an opinion that doesn’t feature very prominently is ok. Don’t change who you are or what you think based on the crowd you happen to be or find yourself with.

10. Someone’s always watching. Your words, your actions are being recorded and observed. Even when you least expect it and by those you least anticipate to be watching. Sometimes by young kids whose thinking and values are being shaped. Act and speak in a way that you would stand by at any time. This goes for your digital footprint as well.

11. Be conscious. Whether you believe it or not, your existence on this earth has an effect. Whether that effect is on the environment, or on a community or a family. You matter. Make your existence count. Make sure that at the very least, you have left the world a bit better than you found it. That could be as simple as not throwing trash on the streets. Or trampling on plants. Or harassing animals. Make sure that if those streets, or plants or animals could tell tales about you, it’s that you walked and existed on this earth with respect. Karma is real.

12. Make time to spend time with the elderly. They were born in a very different generation and have rich stories for days. There’s so much his and her stories captured in their brains and etched in their memories that one can’t get from books. Or anywhere else for that matter.

13. Perhaps back to #1 and #12, spend time with kids. They come with a different energy and bubbly enthusiasm that’s not dampened by life and jadedness. In the same vein, don’t be the one to dampen kids imaginations. It will serve them in the future and reduce limitations they put on themselves.

14. Love yourself. All of you. Flaws and all. Understand that you’re a work in progress, and you must work on those things that are in your power to change. But in the meantime, love, respect and appreciate who you are.

15. Enjoy the present. And the journey. Celebrate the small steps and the milestones.

16. Don’t get stuck on plan a. Life often throws you surprises … and what you think is certain is not. Learn to be flexible like bamboo, which means that you’ll bend rather than break.

17. Don’t ever forget your infallibility. And your mortality. And who is really in control. It will keep you grounded and humble. Although this shouldn’t be an excuse for a laissez-faire attitude on life.

18. There’s a time for patience and a time for impatience. Learn to know the difference.

19. Impossible is nothing. Don’t be afraid to dream. And dream big. But don’t stop there. You must be ready to execute and wake up in order to realize those dreams. As a friend once reminded me, impossible itself is telling us, ‘I’m possible’.

20. God is the ultimate judge. We mustn’t condemn or critique others’ actions for we know not what is in store for us. Let us focus on improving ourselves first and foremost and that in itself is a big contribution to society.

21. Don’t underestimate the power of faith. At times it is the one thing that gets us through the night or a difficult situation.

22. Love. Deeply. Don’t be afraid of pouring your love into another. It has the power to transform and doesn’t drain your reserves.

23. Don’t underestimate the power and medicinal properties of laughter. It’s good for the soul and keeps one radiant and young. It reduces stress and adds spice to life.

24. Don’t give power to ludicrousity. If such a word exists. Don’t feed, react to or dignify nonsense.

25. Put the Almighty first, always. Stand by your faith, unapologetically.

26. Be curious. Yes they tell us that curiosity killed the cat. We don’t often hear the second part of that, ‘satisfaction brought it back’. Curiosity leads to exploring, learning and discovering.

27. Take on challenges. It leads to tremendous growth but also makes one realize just what one is capable of.

28. Feed and cater to your creative juices. Read, write, draw, imagine. Beautiful things can be created through this process.

29. The monster is often bigger in our minds than it is in real life, if it even exists. The sooner we face it, the sooner we realize it’s not spooky or insurmountable.

30. And one last one for good measure. Your best benchmark is previous versions of yourself. May we always strive today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow to be better than today.

Disclaimer: you may have read these lessons elsewhere, or at least something similar and so am not claiming they’re original…perhaps some are lessons I’ve been told or read about and implemented along the way…but all are lessons I find to have worked in my life…hope you benefit from being reminded of them.

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