Butcher shop delivery on a non fasting day!

Addis Ababa is a diplomatic hub, swimming with white UN vehicles and trucks emblazoned with NGO emblems. The home of the Organization of African Unity and the headquarters of the UN Economic Commission for Africa,  Addis is also one quirky town. Here are a few things I’ve noticed so far…

• Only a few streets have names, and most people don’t know them. You have to give cab drivers landmarks to get where you need to go.

• Open sewers are everywhere, so is the fragrance. Sidewalks (where there are some) have stone slabs covering the sewers, and sometimes a slab is missing. It’s a 4 foot drop. You don’t want to fall in.

• Wednesdays and Fridays are fasting days. That means no animal products available on the menu. These are great days for vegetarians – the shared platter known as ye som megeb, or fasting beyainatu, is a portion of injera (a flat spongy pancake made from teff) covered with helpings of lentils, chickpea mash, cooked spinach and whole vegetables like beans, carrots and potatoes. You eat with your right hand. Restaurants are all equipped with sinks to wash after you’ve eaten.

• Beef/goat/lamb is super popular (on non-fast days). The city is filled with Christian butcher shops, identified by the red cross on the outside.

• The population is about 60/40 Christian/Muslim.

• The beer is delicious. I love two brands, St. George’s and Harar. Cost is 12-15 birr (80 cents). Only Christians drink alcohol. Muslim cafes are good for juice, chai and coffee. Some places serve a drink that is a mixture of chai and coffee.

• Average salary for a middle class person is around 1500 birr per month (a little under $100). Lowest wage is around 30 birr per day (the average for a shoe shiner, and there are lots of them).

• Many diplomats live in an area called Washington. The large houses rent for around 40,000 birr per month.

• Elevation is 2,408 meters – thin air mixed with dust and diesel fumes makes breathing difficult. I walked up Entoto Mountain, which looks over the city and has an elevation of 3,000 meters. Gasp!

• Call to prayer – Christian and Muslim — starts around 5 am. Sleeping in is not an option.

•  Cabbies all drive blue and white Ladas. You have to negotiate a price before getting in. The ferengi price is always double. State of repair varies. Push start? Hanging wires? Door won’t close? Teddy bear in the back? You never know.

• Main traumas in hospitals are from traffic accidents. Ethiopia has the 2nd highest traffic accident fatality rate in Africa.

• When Manchester United plays, most of the city shuts down and TV cafes are packed. Bring on the St. George’s!

• St. George is the patron saint of Ethiopia.


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