I can’t tell what my dread means. Shrieking children chase one another around the Ethiopian swimming pool. Tanned, well-oiled U.N.-types lumber up and down the lap lanes. The hotel pool’s chlorinated oblivion mirrors my unease, or maybe my exhaustion. I didn’t sleep last night on the overnight flight from Rome to Addis Ababa. Usually, I find such arrivals thrilling. I relish the anonymity of knowing no one and of no one knowing me. Sitting by the largest swimming pool in one of the world’s poorest countries, I feel remorse at having come. It costs $20 to occupy the white, cement deck; another $25 for the Jessica Simpson-brand flowered two-piece I purchased in the gift shop.

The children sound like ominous birds, maybe flesh eaters. I can’t tell the difference between diplomats and arms dealers. This sinister foreign tableau reminds me of the landscape of the young Joan Didion. If she came to Addis Ababa, she’d visit this pool too. She, however, would be clad in a chic black suit and her cool reserve. Sweating and vainly burning in an ill-fitting tankini, I am the opposite. I am hopelessly overexposed.

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