Hugues Fontaine first asked me to translate the French text he was working on to accompany his bilingual photographic book African Train/Un Train Africain. Later, as work progressed, Hugues kindly suggested I write a chapter for the book too, and I chose to write up the life of Mme Angèle Assimakopoulos (known to all by the sobriquet of Mme Kiki), an Ethio-Greek lady of steely determination and pale blue eyes who has managed the Buffet de la Gare of Awash Station since the late 50s.
«Mme. Angeliki – most often known, somewhat irreverently it always seems to me, as Mme. Kiki – was born in 1928 in the railway town of Dire Dawa. Her grandfather boards the steamer from Greece, to work on the rails, in the time of Emperor Menelik. This makes her father Greek – although born in Ethiopia. Her mother was a Greek too, from Djibouti, and, like Mme. Kiki’s uncles, of French nationality. She will herself learn the indispensable lingua franca of the day – French – with the Catholic Sisters, in Djibouti. But she also speaks her family’s native tongue – as well as Arabic, Amharic and Italian. Mme. Angeliki arrives in Awash Station in 1948 – she is 19 years old. Fittingly, the neon tube on the empty verandah where we sit has gone out, and Mme. Kiki tells me of the past, reclining comfortably in the shadows. Her father is given the Buffet de la Gare, in the late 1950s, as a retiring post. First her father, then her husband, and finally Mme. Kiki, have managed the establishment ever since.» (an extract from Mme Kiki, a text by Yves Marie Stranger, in African Train, by Hughes Fontaine)