The Tale of a Light Bulb

In order to synchronize ourselves with Ethiopian time, we kept going Wednesday after a brief period of rest, and we had a full afternoon of meetings with Jember Terferra at IHAUDP.  After supper back at the hotel, we all finally stumbled off to our rooms to settle down for the night.  As I got ready to go to bed, I discovered that the light bulb in the lamp next to my bed was burned out.  I debated whether I should just go to bed and not worry about it, or whether I should ask for a new light bulb.

"I'm in Africa," I decided, "Why not give myself an opportunity to experience how Things Work?"

I resolutely went back downstairs, though I did not have to go all the way down to the front desk.  There is a woman, the housekeeper, who sits on a chair on the first landing and greets everyone as they go up and down the stairs.  She is also the "go-to" person if you need anything for your room.  I held up my burned out light bulb and asked her if there would be a replacement bulb available.

She stared closely at me and probably saw a sleep-deprived American not capable of rationally trouble-shooting of a bedside lamp.

"Let us see," she said, and marched quickly up the stairs, heading back up to the third floor where my room was.  I trailed behind, still holding my burned out light bulb.

We both went into the room, and she inspected the lamp by the bed, but did not make me go through the steps of putting the bulb back in, or flipping the switch.  "Let us see," she said again, and marched quickly out the room, heading back down stairs.  I trailed more slowly, still holding the light bulb.

By the time I had reached the landing, she was all the way downstairs, and I could hear her footsteps receding into the lobby where the front desk was.  I stood on the landing to await developments.  About five minutes later, she returned with a manager in tow.  "Come, come," he said to me, as he and the housekeeper marched quickly up the stairs back to the third floor.  I puffed up the steps in their wake, still clutching the bulb.

All three of us walked into my room, and she gestured to the lamp while rattling off a long string of emphatic Amharic.  "Ah!" exclaimed the manager, and he wheeled around and took off back down the stairs along with the housekeeper.  By the time I caught up to them, the manager was unlocking a storage closet behind the housekeeper's chair on the landing.  I stood outside the storage room, still clinging to my lightbulb like a talisman, while an animated debate that lasted for several minutes went on inside the storage room.

The manager eventually reappeared, holding three lightbulbs.  "Come, come!" he urged, as he and housekeeper marched quickly up the stairs, back to the third floor.  I heaved myself slowly up the stairs realizing that I was now caught in a Chain of Events, and the manager was now much more committed to resolving the problem with the lightbulb than I was. Visions of chasing an Ethiopian maintenance man up and down the stairs danced through my head.

This story has a happy ending: The first bulb the manager put in the lamp worked, and he and the housekeeper both wished me a good-night.  They even took the burned out lightbulb with them.  I got to go to bed, yet a little wiser in the ways of Ethiopia.

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