Saturday, December 02, 2006

Meskel Adebabay

Contrasts fascinate me. I am intrigued by seeing two extreme sides of things. Take Sam Walton- he was content driving an old pick up truck while ranking as the world’s richest man. How about a mother that has twin babies, one black and the other white? Back in the 1980’s I was fascinated to read in one issue of Time Magazine a story about a three year old billionaire baby, only to see few pages later an ad for a charity with a picture of a little girl, about the same age, hanging on to a pair of crutches with a heartbreaking look on her face. I cut out pictures of those two girls, taped them together, and kept them with me for many years as a reminder of extremes present on this earth.

It was such fascination with contrasting extremes that froze me in my tracks couple of years ago, when I came across a stunning picture in the March 2004 issue of Runner’s World Magazine. The picture itself was quite simple; a multitude of people running across Meskel Adebabay in the heart of Addis Ababa as they completed a 10K race.

But there was more to the story. True to its name, Meskel Adebabay was serving as center-stage to an event that so poignantly symbolized the “cross-roads” that Ethiopians have traveled in the preceding twenty-five years. I was so moved by the picture that on March 29, 2004 I sat down and wrote the following to the editor of Runner’s World:

The first glance I took of the picture you put in your Warm Up section of the March 2004 issue immediately transported me back some 25 years in time. I am sure almost all of your readers simply saw a sea of humanity traversing Meskel Square, en route to completing The Great Ethiopian Run 10K.

However, I couldn’t help but be taken back to the mid 1970’s where Meskel Square, then Revolution Square, was filled (though not by choice) with hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians every September 12, with the backdrop of huge portraits of Marx and Lenin, to commemorate the day when Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by a communist military group. A military parade full of Soviet war machine would always take place, followed by hours of communist tirade from dictator Mengistu Hailemariam. I even recalled how on one occasion
[April 17, 1977]
Mengistu tried to intimidate his opposition by smashing down several bottles filled with blood on the asphalt of Meskel Square as he spewed hate and anger at the top of his voice.

This very same place was now transformed by the presence of thousands of Ethiopians who had come out, of their own free will, to participate in the beautiful sport of running. What a testament to the power of running- to even lift the spirit of a nation!

In the 1970’s, during my elementary school years, I crossed Meskel Adebabay daily, many times on foot. I now long for the day when I will get my chance to trample on the grave of Communism with a beautiful run across Meskel Adebabay.