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May 22

A bit more about Addis

So far Addis has been great! I have worked, ate, slept, had a few beers, and worked some more.. I arrived last Wednesday and worked every day since being here. Things are a bit mental for reasons I am not sure I can fully publish. Some are good and some are not so good and cleaning up almighty messes left or currently created by others. Anyway as I am saying to everybody, I am making up for the days looking at the grass growing in Bloemenberggang for the past 8 months. So far I have being doing accounts, stock take, taxes and finally today, got my hand on some training stuff.

 

The evenings usually consisted of mighty good food. Thats one thing that expats seem to talk about here.. The quality and level of food is great here for a nice price. Of course local habesha food is a lot cheaper though then you take the associated health risks. Some places I have been to, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and even Guatemala, street food is good and safe. You just have to ask around to travellers or expats living here to find out what you eat or where you go. And most say for your own safety and health, street food is a no-go until you get totally adjusted to Ethiopia. So well, I suppose I have to believe them. Anyway I am at the mercy of those I know here, like Shak, who will bring me everywhere. And in Addis, there is plenty of choice. So far we have eaten Greek, Italian, French, Lebanese and of course Ethiopian. And all have been cheap by European standards though often (very very very) expensive by Ethiopian. When you have 90% of the country living well below the poverty line, having the luxury to have a dinner and drinks for 10 euro makes it luxury for you. Anyway I’ll talk more about food now and other stuff later.

 

I have to say so far I really like local habesha (Ethiopian) food here. There is no point commenting about the western food cos well… you know about it already… so Habesha food… Its a mix of meat meat and erm.. meat… that comes in many forms. Though twice a week, it is a fasting day where no meat and dairy is eaten. So every Wednesday and Friday, you will find a fasting menu where many vegatarian versions of meals are found including spinach and lentils. Everything is served with a type of pancake called injera. Think about kick assed savory meat pancakes and thats basically what is eaten most of the times (or what I have seen so far). Its basically what potato is to the Irish. Its with every meal! In the picture above, its the base that you eat from…. just rip away a bit of Injera, wrap some meat or veggies in it and wolf it down…

 

So far I have tried various forms of what is called Tibs. Basically its beef cut up freshly from the carcass, cooked over a hot plate or in a hot stone bowl over coals with various spices and if you want, with a range of different sauces. Also sampled were many of the vegetarian dishes consisting of spinach and lentils that were incredibly tasty. Though left on my waiting list of food for when I come back is Doro wat chicken. !Its said that if a women knows how to cut the chicken perfectly into 12 pieces, she is ready to get married.

 

I thought I would miss coffee the minute I left Europe. I have been blessed that the Ethiopians like their coffee a lot and have a special particular way to prepare it. The full Ethiopian coffee ceremony involves taking coffee beans, roasting them, grinding them, cooking/boiling the ground coffee and serving it.. right in front of your eyes… My lord.. you get a coffee soooooo smooth you think your drinking melted chocolate and it blows your mind! I plan to buy a kilo of it to bring to Mombasa and hopefully a bit more to bring back to Belgium! You can see this type of coffee prepared in small little cafes that seat about 10 people all around the city. For 4/5 birr (20 cents) you can get hold of a wee cup of one of these majestic brews and savour every bit of it!

 

The short time that I have been here hasn’t really gave me much time to get to understand Ethiopians. From the first moments in the airport to interacting with people in the hotel and more so those that I work with, I see very friendly people who are happy to help you out a little if ever needed. I am sure it would be very easy to leave the country with a tourists perspective that Ethiopians in general are shit cool, friendly and welcoming (of course you’ll have the small few ruining it for them all looking for the ferengi dollar). I have heard and experienced many stories of local generosity. If your invited for a meal by locals, they will pay for it. It is an insult to even suggest otherwise. If they know you like something, they will go out of your way to make sure you try it. On surface level you will see this and these are wonderful characteristics to see.

 

Spend a few days working here and talk to those who work with Ethiopians and another story begins to emerge that gives a deeper picture to the complex social structure in Ethiopia. Words such as paranoid, over-confident, arrogant and difficult begin to emerge. In the first 4 hours I kept hearing about the word Paranoid. Ethiopians are paranoid this, Ethiopians are paranoid that! Of course my curiosity got the better of me and I asked why. From there I proceeded to get a full rundown of the history of the country. Never been colonised (apart from Italian coffee ideas and Pizza). Been through many dictators from Haile Selassie, the Derg, right through to the current “democratic” government. The current government run by Meles is considered

Meles himself works for Camara

by independent observers an authoritarian state that believes in strong centralized control through a network of decentralized federal states and governments. The state has its hands in everything from price fixing to brewing to the only mobile and internet provider in the country. Everything is state monopolised. They don’t like foreigners and don’t like foreign investors as they believe that they will extract all the resources and take profits out of the country and further destroy it. This you can understand if you see how countries like Kenya etc have been totally liberalised by World Bank, IMF and USAID agreements and foreign investors from every corner of the world have come to Nairobi, set up office and proceeded to exploit resources and move profits outside a country that badly needs local investment in infrastructure of many types. This was the glimpse I got of Kenya before, I am sure you will be getting more updates when I get to Mombasa and travel more around talking to people about it! So.. back to Ethiopia.

 

Of course there are benefits to state control especially when you compare with countries that have been pillaged of all natural resources by greedy corrupt governments not thinking of the long term. And there are obvious negative factors resulting from authoritarian monopolizing State, stiflingly innovation and development, inhibiting competition that can often benefit development in areas such as infrastructure and most importantly a non-responsive government to the peoples democratic needs. So what about paranoia? Well… if the State controls all and if you do anything wrong, the State will be sure you know about it. If you support an opposition party, you’ll know about it. If you don’t do your taxes correctly, you’ll know about it. Anything you do wrong, you will know about it! Thus this all adds to the level of paranoia floating around the general public. The fact that the country is State monopolized, quite a considerable amount of the population are State employees. They do anything wrong, they will know about it. And this gives a problem when your trying to get something done, in particular something that involves risk, nobody wants to get caught out doing something that could be considered wrong in the eyes of the State so they are happy to resist that change instead of being part of it. Although corruption doesn’t seem to be part of society here (due to the government’s stance and response to any cases… severe), connections seem to be the only way you can make headway in this land. Its about who you know and what they want to do for you.

 

Another characteristic I hear of a bit and am beginning to discover is confidence and pride which sounds like a contradiction to what I have just said though in the balance of this social structure seems to me to make sense. There is plenty of pride bouncing around Addis Ababa. I can only speak for the city as I haven’t yet got the opportunity to venture any further afield. Pride instilled from previous regimes, pride from never being colonised, enforced pride from the current regime. There are big projects such as the Nile River Dam project that the government are funding and wish all people to be proud of this project and feel that they belong to its development (through taxes and more taxes). This confidence in your country is a nice thing to see on so many fronts and its why I guess tourists really enjoy coming to Addis. Transported into daily working life, and it becomes a new demon. Work environments become over political while still trying to remain best friends and changing of any form of a system or process that affects people becomes an arduous task unless your the government and its imposed. It could be a reaction to the authoritarian nature of the State. People now fight their battles and demonstrate their pride outside of the public sphere, in controlled places where there is a smaller degree of paranoia of being found out. Now what you end up with is two seemingly opposing characteristics working together to create a complex environment to work in and live in

Ok all this may be from a glimpse of being there for a week, though talking to many locals who are happy to share their opinions and many expats, it seems to be the general consensus. Having experienced all of this I have to say that I really enjoyed my first week in Addis. I felt relatively safe though being with somebody that knows the city well helped of course. I enjoyed the food, the coffee and the people and look forward to being back and experiencing and understanding more.

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