Book Review: Abyssinian Nomad by Maskarm Haile

As I wrote this review from the comfort of the Mar y Bosque restaurant at Drake Bay, Costa Rica, I could see and hear wildlife all around me. There was a beautiful black bird with bright orange feathers perched on a tree branch. I could also see the impression of a long tail. It moved. Was it a snake? A moment later I could make out that it was a very large iguana that moved along another branch.

It was a beautiful December afternoon and although there were a few clouds in the sky, there was very little indication that it would rain. This is Costa Rica and things may change quickly as I learned.

On this day, I decided to finish the 25th chapter of Maskarm Haile’s book entitled Abyssinian Nomad. Although I met Maskarm in Washington DC at Sankofa bookstore and cafe last month, life got in the way so much so that I hadn’t been able to finish it sooner.

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My first time meeting Maskarm was shrouded in mystery. It was a mystery how two similar souls found each other on that fateful day at Sankofa. For instance, as my readers know, I often write about seeing my birthday 10-09 in odd places and at odd times. I imagine these instances are good omens portending positive experiences for me. The day I met Maskarm, one of those instances occurred.

I walked into the local supermarket to buy items for a light breakfast including three bananas and a bottle of water. When the cashier rang up the bananas, she had to run a price check. She keyed in the code for bananas — 1009!

I told the cashier that 1009 is my birthday and she replied: “then today is your lucky day.”

I thought to myself, if it were really my lucky day then I’ll find an Ethiopian who will be my language professor for an hour. I have this fascination with Ethiopian culture after traveling there in 2017 and 2018. Finding a language partner for Amharic lessons shouldn’t have been difficult, because I was already in the city where existed the most densely populated Ethiopian community in America. Up until that time my attempts to learn and use Amharic was limited to interactions between Ethiopian wait staff and cashiers in Ethiopian restaurants. They thought I was Ethiopian and curiously wondered why I couldn’t speak Amharic. Since our interaction was limited to hello, bye, and thank you, I wanted a structured lesson in order to learn more. What further complicated matters was that I had to wait for their workload to diminish a bit before I commanded their attention.

Later that same day I walked into Sankofa bookstore, I picked up and put down Maskarm’s book that was sitting on the counter. I wasn’t aware that she had just completed her book’s presentation that I missed and that by putting her book down I had just indirectly rejected her.

The book’s cover struck me as it displays a large diagram of the continent of Africa, the silhouette of a backpacker, the author’s name, and a description that reads: “An African woman’s journey of love, loss, and adventure from Cape to Cairo.”

I was intrigued by the title, cover, and tagline. But, being a male traveler, myself, I just mused at the novelty of the travel journey book idea.

I moved around the bookstore in search a book to read — one that would inspire me, speak to my experience as a traveler, maybe. As I walked between the chairs and bookshelves at Sankofa I noticed three Ethiopian patrons sitting together. I made eye contact and shared a smile with one of them. It was Maskarm, but, in that moment I did not know.

Minutes later, the group of Abyssinians were moving closer to the door and I sensed I needed to make a move before I lost my chance of turning one of them into a language teacher if only for an hour. I interrupted their conversation. I asked for help learning Amharic. Maskarm agreed to teach me. Lucky me! Then her friend informed me that she was the author of the book that was displayed on the counter.

Huh? What?! I just picked up and put down that book minutes earlier! Now I was talking to the author.

Embarrassed that I had earlier rejected her text, I quickly seized a copy and bought it. Grateful that she agreed to meet me for an Amharic lesson, I promised to read her book from cover to cover before our meeting. I got to chapter five.

Haile’s book is thoughtful as it took her a long time to even embark on the journey of being a writer. That is because she likes to take her time to allow the experiences to ruminate, and reminisce. She put it off for nine years. Abyssinian Nomad resonates with travelers especially female travelers who are so often warned and dissuaded from acting on their desires and ambitions. Maskarm acted on hers and hasn’t looked back. In her book she reveals that through the loss of her mother, but also an unshackling to the norms that create the world of womanhood around the world, that she is courageously tackling life on her terms.

Personally, I found her storytelling ability to be insightful. Unlike my own writing which is often marked by dates, times, and events, Maskarm is able to convey the emotion of the moments that dot her travels. This aspect of her writing will resonate with her travel readers.

Haile’s book is a must read for any person of color who is curious about solo-travel around the world. Haile’s stories are cautionary tales at times, sometimes funny, and at least a few times aggravating. That Haile is able to make her dream of traveling from Cape to Cairo a success is testament to her resilience and fortitude. Her can-do/will-do attitude is admirable and reminded me of a Pippi-Longstocking-esque character for black girls and boys.

I appreciated her retelling of events throughout Africa as I can relate to and get inspired by her example. Well, here is as good a place to end. To wrap things up, her book was necessary for me to find inspiration on my journey. I was lucky to have met Maskarm and to have picked up her book. That day was not only lucky, but also magical.

It began to rain as I wrote this. That’s Costa Rica, baby!

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