My work on the ground in Ethiopia wraps up today and I’m already missing many aspects of this country that I’ve come to know in the past two months. Here are just a few samples:
• Waking up to the bleating of sheep outside my hotel window in downtown Addis.
• The sweet smell of frankincense that comes from traditional “bunna” cafes – Ethiopian coffee houses where beans are roasted, coffee is brewed and then served with popcorn. The coffee is always accompanied by a charcoal burner topped with fragrant incense. Heavenly!
• Steaming double macchiato made with rich Ethiopian coffee beans and perfectly foamed milk. Starbucks can’t come close. Especially at 12 birr a cup (under a dollar). The great thing is that these delicious cuppas are available everywhere, from tiny roadside cafes to posh hotels and the quality is superb!
• Berberé spice – a red chili spice concoction used in just about every dish. I love it with eggs.
• Special foul for breakfast, a sort of huevos rancheros, Ethiopian-style.
• Warm smiles.
• Clocks that run 6 hours ahead, Ethiopian time.
• A calendar that runs seven years behind ours. It’s 2004 in Ethiopia right now. (Alexandrian versus Gregorian. Sept. 11 is the Ethiopian New Year’s Day.)
• Cool Ambo mineral water. Love the tree of life logo.
• 1 birr coins that look like toonies and are reportedly made in Canada.
• Stumbling along with a few Amharic words and having people understand me.
• A climate that goes from the hottest on earth (the Danakil Depression gets to around 50 degrees C) to very chilly (in Dessie we were wearing parkas).
• Animals everywhere…donkeys, camels, cattle, goats. They own the road, especially in rural areas.
Most of all, I’m going to miss the people. The staff at the VSO Ethiopia office was kind, considerate and extremely helpful on this assignment. Logistics ran smoothly and I felt truly taken care of. In particular, Mahlet Mebrate and Tamrat Mulugeta made my road trips journeys of a lifetime (the first to the southeast was 2292 km. To the north was 2173 km). Tamrat’s name means “full of miracles” and that was particularly true when he got us safely to Lalibela after driving 300 km on gravel roads, up and down mountains with no guard rails – and the last 40 km in the dark! Spending time with volunteers, seeing the astounding historical sights, and gaining an appreciation for the geographical wonders of this ancient land was an absolute joy.
Like anywhere, Ethiopia has its problems. That’s why so much development work is being done here. But it is also a country that is emerging and determined to cure its ills. I know things are going to change very quickly. Even in my time here, I’ve seen sparkling high-rise buildings sprout up overnight, experienced excellent roads and seen mobile technology embraced by farmers and bankers alike.
I’m just hoping that in the future when I return, I’ll still be able to recognize the Ethiopia I’ve come to love.