Lidia Paley

An unusual holiday

Jack Skinner is a twenty year old student at the University of Cape Town. Excelling in his second year of theology, Jack wants to become a Christian evangelist. He has been living with his adopted parents since he can remember. He doesn’t know his real parents and has a strong desire to discover their identity. Having a month’s holiday from his second semester of studies he decides to take a vacation. His adopted parents, Anton and Felicity have decided to spoil him. Sensing his emptiness they encourage him to travel somewhere. Jack has been having a recurring dream where he is based in the middle of an Ethiopian village inside a mud hut surrounded by poverty feeling strangely comfortable. Browsing on the internet for airline tickets, Jack makes a booking on SAA for 6 June 2007, departing at 11:00pm from Cape Town to Johannesburg and from Johannesburg flying with Ethiopian Airlines to Addis Ababa.

He waves goodbye to Anton and Felicity and boards the plane. The stewardess shows him to his seat between a small kid with red hair and freckles and an elegantly dressed woman in her forties. He pages through the “Sawubona” magazine to kill time as the plane escalates into the sky.

The humming noise from the engine increases as the screeching wheels hit the runway. Jack catches a nearby shuttle to the terminal. In a café buzzing with people he orders a chicken burger and coke, gobbles down his food and hurries to the ticket office. He boards the next plane and a smile spreads across his face as the stewardess ushers him to a window seat. The eight-hour flight passes quickly and a voice over the intercom announces a short landing. In the shabby airport Jack grabs his luggage, walks towards Avis car rental and orders a taxi to the city centre. He explains to the driver that he needs to get to the Wabe Shebelle hotel. . Addis Ababa is on the southern facing slopes of the Entoto mountain range and the outskirts of the city are surrounded by traditional homes of wattle and daub with cattle grazing nearby.

Approaching the city centre Jack sees women in colourful dresses and men in loose trousers and tightly fitting shirts. The taxi jerks over the potholes in the road and at each robot intersection there are beggars. The driver makes a right turn and stops the taxi in front of the hotel.

After a quick nap in his hotel room, Jack throws his camera, wallet and room keys into his sling bag and leaves. There is a shuttle service outside the hotel and Jack takes one to the city centre. On arrival he spots a nearby café, goes inside and orders an injera, a large pancake with spicy sauces and meat. After his meal he walks to the train station and purchases a map. He scans the map and decides to visit a rural area – Nuer. At the train station he purchases a ticket to the Gambella National Park from where a taxi can be arranged to any of the nearby villages.

The train finally comes to a stop. Jack proceeds to the entrance of the park and arranges for a taxi to Nuer. As he walks towards a village he is greeted by people with dark faces and satiny complexions. They are wearing bone bangles, bright bead necklaces and spikes of ivory through holes pierced in their lower lips. Some women are weaving baskets singing in Amharic. Jack spots an old man sitting in front of his hut whistling on a bamboo flute. He approaches and takes his camera out to take a photograph. The man doesn’t seem to mind and Jack takes the shot. The man motions for him to come inside the hut and offers him a cup. Jack takes a sip and tastes the rich flavour of Ethiopian coffee.

The old man smiles and shows Jack a photograph of a white man holding a bible. It is autographed with the man’s name and a message saying, Jesus loves you. Jack knows that he has seen this man before. The old man shows him a copy of the bible translated into Amharic. It was probably given to him by this very man. 

A taxi approaches on the gravel road.  Jack waves goodbye to the old man. Back at the national park, Jack takes the train back to the city centre. At an internet café not far from the train station he does a search about the man on the photograph – Kevin Brand. Jack soon becomes engrossed in reading about Kevin’s experience in Ethiopia and comes to a piece that describes how he had a son with a woman who was a missionary in Ethiopia: Francesca Prendini – the daughter of a strict Catholic home. Francesca fell pregnant and returned to Cape Town without telling Kevin about it.   She and Kevin were not married and she couldn’t bring herself to tell her parents of her pregnancy. During the last five months of her pregnancy she stayed in Cape Town with friends, then gave the baby up for adoption. Kevin Brand was only informed about this two years later – the last time she made contact with him.

Jack cannot make sense of this bizarre story. Why had he seen the exact same photograph inside his house a few years ago? Could this man possibly be his father? On the website Kevin expresses deep regret about not finding his son. On one of the pages Jack notices that Kevin is currently stationed in Kenya where he is involved in an outreach programme to young children.

His heart skips a few beats as he disconnects from the internet.