My last memories of Ethiopia are not happy ones. It was like you had been the sun, shining so bright that I couldn’t see the darkness all around us. But then you left so suddenly, taking your light with you. And all that remained was a filthy camp packed with desperate people, driven from their homes during the uprising. There was not enough food, or water, or medicine. Every day, more mothers arrived with haunted faces, clutching starving babies to their dried-up breasts. Every day, the angel of death visited the camp. And one day, he took my baby brother, Fisha, with him.
After that, there was nothing but darkness. The darkness lasted a long, long time, until the day that God had mercy on me and sent an angel of light to take me away from that place. I knew that she was an angel, because she was pale with yellow hair, like in one of your father’s illustrated Bible books. Her eyes shone blue like the sky, as blue my own. She spoke to me in a language I did not understand, then slipped her hand in mine. Together, we left behind the camp, and all of Africa.
And now? Well now I know that the woman’s name is River, and that she is not really an angel. But she brought me to a place so wonderful, that some days I am convinced it must be Heaven. We live on a green and beautiful farm, named Rainbow Acres, somewhere in America. (America, Leon! Imagine!)
“This is your new home, and we are your family,” River told me when we first arrived. She and her sister, Spring, cleaned me up, sewed me new dresses to wear, and taught me to speak English. Soon, I was just like the other girls, who, according to River and Spring, were my new sisters. There was Belinda, who was funny and not afraid to speak her mind. Then there was dark-haired Megan, who was sweet and shy, and rarely without a smile. Finally, there was Leslie, the daydreamer. I was so mesmerized by her strange, bright red hair, that for the first time in my life, I understood why people of our village had found it hard not to stare at me when I walked past.
My sisters and I were mainly responsible for two things – the vineyard and the peach orchard. Day after day, we tended the crops and picked grapes and peaches until our hands were sore and cramped. Then, when we had finally harvested enough, we set to work, smashing the grapes and fermenting the juice, until it tasted bitter and strong, like the medicine old women in Zewedu used to cram down the unlucky throats of their fevered patients.
“People spend a great deal of money for our wines,” Spring explained when I expressed my distaste for the drink we were bottling.
“The trick is to drink at least three glasses of it,” Belinda whispered to me later. “By then, you’ll be too drunk to realize how bad it tastes.”
The other thing we produced on our farm was peach jam and peach preserves. It wasn’t too hard to make, once I got the hang of it. And I can promise you, I’d take sweet, sticky peach jam over wine any day.
When we weren’t working on the farm or making jam and wine, then my sisters and I would relax in the parlor, sipping herbal teas and listening as Spring read aloud to us from all kinds of books, from philosophy books to medical guides. I didn’t understand many of the big words she read, but I imagined they must be very important, so I tried hard to listen. Megan says that Spring is very smart – she went to school all the way until ninth grade!
I want to tell you more, but I’m out of time. It is nearly six o’clock, and we are all getting ready for the return of The Teacher. And who is The Teacher? Well, he is the most important person at Rainbow Acres. He is the one who blesses the fruit and makes it grow. He is our master, and the center of everything. I promise that I will tell you all about him in the next letter.