I remember 1967 as the best of year of my childhood. In the US, 1967 was the Summer of Love (flower-in-your-hair hippies) and of war (Vietnam draft dodgers) and of civil unrest (inner city riots) but in Canada it was our Centennial Year, the 100th anniversary of Confederation. For children across the nation it was an especially giddy year: teachers from coast-to-coast were teaching their charges how to sing Bobby Gimby’s exuberant CA-NA-DA song, “one little, two little, three Canadians. We love you. Now we are twenty million.”
For Montrealers like me, it was the summer of Expo67, our fabulous world’s fair, situated just a short bus and metro ride away on two man-made islands in the Saint Lawrence River.
I visited Expo 50 times, if memory serves. I sometimes went by myself and I was only 12 years old!
I could go whenever I pleased because I was in possession of a shiny red passport that cost a whole 17 dollars. With his passport you could go from pavilion to pavilion and get it stamped, just like travelling the world.
I no longer have the passport, but it was not lost. My passport was given away by my mother to a beautiful young African woman – and this is how it came about.
A friend of my mother’s had gone through official channels offering to chaperone Expo hostesses from foreign countries. Two Ethiopian hostesses, Hanim and Mentewab, were suggested to her. My mother got into the act and the two girls soon regularly visited our Snowdon home.
Hanim was shy and wore a caftan and hijab. Mentewab was ‘wild’ and wore a halter top, micro-miniskirt and white go-go boots when not in her official costume.
I do not recall having any specific conversations with these young ladies, but I can still see in my mind’s eye their pretty faces as they sat so graceful and ‘grown-up’ on our brown corduroy living room couch, Mentewab so animated, Hanim so quiet.
These women seemed to exotic to me: the reporter in the Gazette had called them ‘goddesses’ after all.
I doubt that they were as impressed with us and our dingy upper duplex apartment. These girls must have been from the elite classes to have been chosen to host at Expo.
As it happens, on May 2, I caught a glimpse of their leader, Haille Selassie, as he passed through the Expo crowd to polite applause, a small, very proud-looking man followed by a tiny little dog, Lulu the Chihuahua, whose short legs were working very hard to keep up with her master. My mother, who admired powerful men, was very excited. “The Lion of Judah” she sang out as he passed.
On cold rainy days at Expo I spent a great deal of time in the coffee bar at the Ethiopian Pavilion, a shiny red tent with lion cubs on guard, probably pestering Hanim and Mentewab big time.
And then, in mid-October, Expo was over. I guess the women visited us one more time because that is when my mother gave MY Expo passport away to one of the girls. Upon learning that Mentewab or Hanim didn’t have a passport of her own, she merely grabbed mine and said, “Take this one.” (At least, that is how I remember it.)
Sometimes I wonder if Mentewab and Hanim are still alive (why wouldn’t they be, they were hardly older than me) and whether one of them, living in Addis Ababa or Paris or New York City, occasionally opens a drawer crammed with Expo67 memorabilia and shows to her many grandchildren a shiny red passport belonging to a pimply, brown-haired Canadian girl called Dorothy Nixon – and wonders, in turn, where I am today. I’d like to think so.
- A video about the Ethiopian Pavilion with images of Hanim and Mentewab (I assume) is here.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQAbaRTki-g