The flashbacks happen all the time. There I am, in the middle of school, or walking down the street, then bam! The world around me fades away, and I am back in Zewedu with you. The round copper sun warms my head as I run along the dirt paths of our village. Neighbors in colorful dress smile as I pass, calling out, “Akkam jirta? Maatiin akkam?”
My family’s hut was next to the missionary church where my parents worked, at the edge of the village. And beyond that, the land seemed to stretch on forever, like a sea of gold. “God’s cradle of life,” Papa used to say about the grasslands, about all of Africa. “The place where everything began.”
My life began there, too.
When I was very young, I thought I was Oromo. Although I spoke English and Spanish with my parents, I spoke the Oromo language outside of home. I ate the same spicy bowls of itoo for dinner as everyone else. I even went to the village school, where I made friends with the Oromo children, and learned to do sums and write in Amharic (which always looked to me like baby scribbles).
“But you are not Oromo, tontito,” said Mama. “You are American, like me, and Colombian, like your Papa.”
I could hardly believe it. Especially when they began to fill my head with stories about their home in America. Brightly-lit supermarkets filled with every kind of food. Buildings so tall, they touched the sky. Busy streets filled with cars. To me, America sounded like an impossible place, like a dream.
“When I grow up,” I said, my eyes wide, “I want to go there.”
Although I was not Oromo as I had once thought, I was still accepted among the other children of the village. From sun up to sundown, we played in the streets or in the savanna on the outskirts of town. One day, some of the kids were talking about a ghost.
“Her eyes are as white as ash,” said Gabra. “And her skin is as pale as bones.”
“My mother passed the Ghost on the road yesterday,” said Saba in a hushed voice. “And this morning, one of our goats was dead.”
The other kids giggled nervously. I said nothing. My parents had taught me not to believe in ghosts. Still, even under the hot African sun, a cold shudder ran through me. Real or not real, I had no desire to meet this ghost.
I do not know if you will ever read this letter. I plan to mail it to Teacher Hosanna at the village school in Zewedu. If anyone will know where to find you, it is her.
Aurelio de Leon