Drama in Eastern Africa

My parents are understandably a little concerned about my being in Ethiopia, and have thus expressed some relief that I am now moving onwards to Italy.  Just a couple days ago, Al-Shabaab militant stormed a shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya, Ethiopia’s southern neighbor.  The Westgate mall fiasco was complete with hostages, a multi-day militant siege, and a collapsed parking deck.  Frighteningly, those caught in the crossfire could have been anyone making the scene all the scarier.  That all said, whether warranted or not, I felt safe with Harya and her family, whether that be traversing the capital city via minibuses or walking through crowded streets trying not to get lost.

Sabana Resort on Lake Langano

My last couple days in Ethiopia are spent rather luxuriously at Lake Langano.  Luckily, with the differences in economies and currencies, it wasn’t expensive to live it up for a couple days.  Harya, Hileena, and I gather a crew, hire a private mini-bus for the weekend, and head on south to Lake Langano.  The Sabana Resort is complete with a nice restaurant, a day spa, easy access to the lake’s silky waters, and comfortable rooms.  It is a nice way for me to say goodbye to Ethiopia.


Everything goes relatively smoothly except for one unplanned adventure.  In the middle of the second night, the pipes under our sink break, and water starts gushing out all over the bathroom floor.  The hour is painfully late or early (depending on your perspective), and luckily Hileena wakes from the sound of the water.  She in turn then wakes Harya and Kit who try to figure out their next steps.  While doing so, they somehow manage to lock themselves out of the bathroom.  The current picture now hasa leaking pipe under a sink, a locked door, and water starting to seep towards the rest of the room.  Harya then comes and wakes me up thinking that I might be able to get through the locked door or fiddle with the lock mechanism enough to open it.  I play around for a while, but with limited success.  We end up dismantling the whole doorknob, but the situation only seems to get more dire.  We then try to call anyone and everyone at the resort, but every number leads us to no answer and another dead end.  Meanwhile, towels are being used to sop up the water coming under the door.  The towels are then wrung out on the patio so as to try to limit the potential water damage to the room.   Eventually after one of us runs around the resort looking for any sort of assistance, and we keep on calling every number that we can find, we get someone’s attention on the phone.  They do not seem surprised or alarmed by the situation, which leads us to believe that this might not be an uncommon occurrence, and they call in someone with the right tools to get through the door and repair the bathroom sink.  That all said, these couple of hours did provide a little extra excitement to the otherwise very relaxing weekend.



Ethiopian dinner & dancing

Harya and her parents have been so welcoming to me here in Ethiopia.  From greeting me early in the morning at Bole International Airport to introducing me to numerous Ethiopian dishes to teaching me about the local culture and customs, they have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable and at home.  On one night, they take me to a restaurant that also provides entertainment of local music and local dance.  The food is good, and the dancing is even better.  At one point, one of the dancers approaches our table and approaches us one by one to dance a couple 8-counts with her.

Thank you so much to Harya and her family for making me feel so comfortable!




Ethiopian mini-buses

Although the minibuses are technically a means to get from one place to another, when taking them in and around Addis, they become an adventure in themselves.  Step one of the adventure is getting on the right bus.  Each bus is painted blue on its bottom half and white on its top, and each holds about ten passengers plus the driver and money-collector.  The money-collector leans out the side window and yells the bus’ destination.  However, even if I know which bus I am looking for, the names of the final destinations are pronounced so differently than what I would have expected, that I still find a hard time figuring out which bus is the correct bus.  For example, if I am headed to the stadium, which is near the center of town, “stadium” is pronounced as a one-syllable word that only contains the consonants from the original.  Harya and I hear “stdm, stdm” as they pass.  As of a couple years ago, there is stricter regulations surrounding over-packing these buses, and therefore, every passenger must have a “seat”, which is still not large by any means.  Harya and I eventually find a bus that has two open seats and is heading in the direction we want to travel, we board the bus, pay the very reasonable fare, and then continue on our way.


We take many of these buses in our time in Addis as well as when we venture on our day trip to Kuriftu Lake.  For the most part, it is a relatively easy even if not the most comfortable experience.  However, there is one occasion where Harya and I find the last two available seats located in the back row, which they claim can fit four people across.  In the rows ahead of us, we smell that someone has lathered their hair with butter in the morning, and then probably has spent most of the day outside in the sun allowing the butter to become rancid.  I learn that buttering one’s hair can make it incredibly soft; however, I would prefer not to be victim to the smell of this process.  We are lucky that in this particular case, the windows of the mini-bus have not been sealed shut (as they often are) and we alternate between being smelling the heavy exhaust of the road and the rancid butter from the hair ahead of us.  This is a bit of a longer ride, as it is part of our journey back from the lake; however, we chalk it up as just part of the possibly too-authentic mini-bus experience.



Kuriftu Lake in Bishoftu

This was a small piece of paradise just two hours worth of mini-buses outside of Addis.  For the very reasonable fee of about 12 USD per person, Harya and I enjoy a three-course lunch, lounging by Lake Kuriftu, and some kayaking.




The famous Enrico Bakery

One of the highlights of today was our trip to the Enrico Bakery.  This bakery, which has been around for at least 50 years, makes a couple pastries that are known citywide and they are sold out minutes after taking them out of the oven.  Therefore, Harya and I venture over with some time to spare to ensure that I get to try this delicious treat from her childhood.  We get there a little on the early side because we hear that these delectable items are supposed to emerge around 3pm.  In the next half an hour, nothing appears except for more and more people that are clamoring for their snack.  Harya and I are meanwhile seated at a table near the window watching a girl no more than three years old sprint circles around the bakery.  Eventually, the impatience level rises among all of the customers, and Harya and I feel that the moment is near.  We agree that I will watch the table while she sneaks her way to the counter to collect our cakes.  She returns early and I am impressed not only by her ability to navigate the shop, but also by the taste of these pastries that have just been built up in my mind over the last hour.  We order more than we can eat because the price is relatively inexpensive and anything that we don’t eat, we are sure that we’ll be able to find others who will.

After the bakery, Harya and I walk through much of Addis Ababa taking in the sights, smells, and scenery.  We take turns holding the leftovers from the bakery and I later learn that based on the wrapper surrounding these extra pieces of cake, most people passing us can suspect what we are holding.  I had assumed that the funny looks coming in my direction had been because I don’t exactly fit in with the other people walking the streets of Addis, but I now think that it is probably a combination that includes my holding such a desirable snack.  When discussing said cakes amongst Harya’s friends later in the evening, I learn that some received them as treats for doing well in school or not crying when visiting the doctors or on very special occasions.  The Enrico Bakery with its very unassuming storefront seems to have been a delicious part of life in Addis for many years.



Addis’ hilltop churches

After visiting Harya’s dad, who works as a professor at the University, and swinging by the Red Terror Museum to learn more of Ethiopia’s past, we venture up into the hills just north of Addis.  Although we are not far from the city, the air is clearer and cooler, the trees are more numerous, and life seems calmer.  We visit St. Raguel’s Church, where we inspect some very old caves and enjoy explanations on some of the very intricate paintings within the church.  We then continue on to Entoto St. Mary, where we learn of the history of the church and of Ethiopia more generally.  In front of Entoto, we witness many of the sick who have come to try to heal the illnesses of themselves or their children.  Today is both relaxing and educational.


Our Ethiopian social circle

Our group here in Ethiopia is at the same time both quite diverse and strangely homogenous.  The crew that develops on our first day consists of several Ethiopians who have been educated abroad and foreigners, including myself and Kit, the son of the British Ambassador.  When we hit up some of their favorite spots such as the ice cream place, it seems that there is at least one link in every group to every other group.  In other words, this international community is both rather small and very well connected to each other.


An added benefit of moving around with this group is that our conversations are usually about the past, present, and future of Ethiopia.  For example, we discuss the differences between how they view the country and how their parents thought of it.  We debate how optimistic we all should be about the Ethiopia’s future.  They share stories of parents being imprisoned because they were viewed as intellectual threats to the government in regimes past.  I learn how some troubles arise from how certain business sectors such as cell phones are either government owned or fully monopolized.  In just a few quick days being here in Ethiopia, I feel that I can now sympathize with at least this particular group’s perspectives on the state of the country.

Day 1 in Ethiopia

Harya and her dad meet me with smiling faces after I make it through the visa, immigration, and customs lines at the Addis Ababa Airport.  We exchange hugs and handshakes before piling into their 1950’s classic, white VW Bug.  This is my first opportunity to meet both of Harya’s parents and her aunt, and everyone is so warm and welcoming.  Almost immediately after entering their home, I am greeted with a strong cup of delicious Ethiopian coffee.  Given both my tired state and my love of coffee, I can’t imagine a better start to the day.

After a restful morning and an Ethiopian breakfast, Hileena, another Stanford friend of Harya and mine, comes and picks us up.  We take a driving tour of Addis, eat an Ethiopian lunch at Zola, intersperse coffee stops throughout the day to make sure that my energy stays up and my body stays caffeinated, and we slowly collect more of Hileena’s and Harya’s friends.  The afternoon includes ice cream and a couple beers at a very local pub where good-tasting local beers are the equivalent of only $0.50.  In the evening, the whole crew grabs dinner at a Turkish restaurant followed by a nightcap at a bar called the Black Rose.



One very memorable adventure today occurs on our way to dinner.  As Hileena’s car climbs a rather steep hill to find a restaurant with a view, the passengers eventually file out as to allow the car every opportunity to be able to make it to the top.  Unfortunately, the car stalls and does not want to start its engine once more.  The road is dark and people of all ages and sizes start coming towards the car to investigate the scene.  Some of these approaching individuals definitely feel a little shadier than others.  Soon cars are arriving from different directions that need to pass us, and in order to allow them to do so, we end up pushing the car to the side of the road.  We all then pile back into the car and close the windows so that we can discuss a strategy without having to listen to the advice of our developing audience.  We decide that the restaurant on top of the hill isn’t worth the climb, and that we will try to start the car by gently pushing it back the down the hill.  We are rewarded with the engine starting.  We get back into the car, and continue onwards to a different restaurant.