‘The Neighborhood Phone’ by Gabriella Ghermandi, translated from Italian by Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi and by Victoria Offredi Poletto

The Italo-Ethiopian writer Gabriella Ghermandi was born in Addis Ababa in 1965 and moved to Italy in 1979. This evocative story tells of her return to Ethiopia, and the strange homelessness of those who belong in two places and therefore neither place. The story revolves around the only telephone in the village and the people whose lives are connected by it. This is a place of sleepy inefficiency and poverty, jarringly so for the author; however, within the story there is the flowering of a sense of home and continuity.

I cried all of the following days, in front of my old house with the abandoned garden, at my father’s grave, whenever the phone rang, when I saw the witch. I cried and I washed the anger of such a long separation out of my heart. Finally, I felt light in my heart and I no longer minded the waits by the phone, the buses that never seemed to leave, the lines to buy sugar, the haggling with taxi drivers, the hugs of dirty children. My land was once again familiar to me.

First published in English in Words Without Borders, December 2008, and available to read online here