Meron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American who was born in Addis Ababa and came to the U.S. in her childhood via Germany. Winner of the 2021 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing and 2020 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, her debut short story collection, A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times, will be released in Spring 2022. Meron’s short stories have also been shortlisted for the 2019 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing and appear in Best American Short Stories, Ploughshares, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Zyzzyva, The New England Review, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Addis Ababa Noir, 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology, and others. Her writing has also been published in The New York Times Book Review, the anthology The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, and will appear in the forthcoming anthology Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us. A 2019-2020 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, Meron has also held fellowships at the World Affairs Council, Yaddo, Ragdale, and MacDowell, where she received an NEA award.
From “The Street Sweep”
Walking the long road from his home to the Sheraton, Getu carried his jacket, tie in pocket. He walked slowly so as not to get too sweaty by the time he arrived, and as he walked, he practiced all the ways he’d ask Mr. Jeff for his job, his just reward. As soon as he had the courage, he’d gently bring up the matter of the job he felt was due to him. As he made his way through town, he passed burdened mules, cars trapped in traffic jams, old men and women who preferred trudging along the road to waiting for the crowded buses. Young men sat on street curbs getting stoned on chat, which they languidly chewed with nothing better to do than watch the slow moving yet frenetic scenes drift by.
When Getu approached the foot of the hill that led up to the Sheraton, the buzz of the city quieted. Around this barren land, bureaucrats had erected yellow and green fences of corrugated tin to keep out any unwanted men, women, dogs, cats, and others they considered strays. It started with a single law: if a house in Addis Ababa is less than four stories tall, then the government can and will seize your land. To keep your home, build! Whether there were new investors lined up or not, land across Addis Ababa was being exuberantly razed to make way for the new. Neighborhood by neighborhood, stucco houses vanished; makeshift tent homes made of cloth and rags and wood were swept away; moon-houses—put up at night by leaning tin siding against a wall—were tossed aside by morning.
“Who has a four-story house?” Getu’s mother had shouted frantically when she first heard about the law. “They’ll get rid of everything, except maybe the Sheraton,” she had said.
Getu said, “Be calm, I’ll take care of it. We’ll make it work.”
“What will we do? Of course we’ll move wherever they put us. I hear they’re pushing people to the outskirts of town, but how will I get to work then? I was born in this house, and why don’t they just leave me alone to die here, too.”
“I’m going to handle it, Momma. You’ll see. I’ll make you proud,” Getu said, stepping close to his mother and rubbing her back.
“Lord, this son of mine,” Getu’s mother said into her folded hands.
“There’s a way. I can get a new job,” Getu assured.
“You sweep sidewalks. What could you do with your broom and your dustbin? Anyway, who’s to say that today they tell us to build a fourstory house, tomorrow they won’t demand the Taj Mahal. Just let it go.”
“What food crossed my lips when I was pregnant to end up with a dreamer for a son?”
“I could get a job with one of the international organizations. We could build a dozen four-story houses.”
“Didn’t I forgo meat and dairy each holiday? Didn’t I pray enough? Every week, did I not attend church?”
“Mother, you don’t understand. I have a new friend.”
“Did I stare too long at someone cursed with an evil eye?”
“I’ve helped him. He’ll help me when the time comes. Mr. Jeff is a friend of mine.”
Review Caine 2021: [Mis]understanding the Game – Meron Hadero’s ‘The Street Sweep.’ Africa in Words. 13 July, 2021.
Q&A Caine 2021: Words on the Times – Meron Hadero. Africa in Words. 21 July, 2021
Exposing the Realities of Displacement: A Dialogue with Meron Hadero. Africa in Dialogue. 30 July, 2021.
Meron Hadero on Writing Ethiopia and the Persistence of Hope. Literary Hub. 25 August, 2021.