Ethiopia Trip Blog: Day #4

January 16, Wednesday, 8:12AM Ethiopian Time

There’s 4 of us in our room. All of us guys except for Paul who is bunking with his wife. There’s two bunk beds in our room so Justin and I grabbed one and Frank and Allen grabbed the other. I got top bunk. Our bed didn’t stand flat so I grabbed the deck of cards Michelle made me bring and used it to level the bed. Funny that I told her I don’t like playing cards but she made me take them anyway.

We stayed up until 12:30. Paul came in and we busted out our instruments just to diddle a bit and ended up jamming for quite a while. What fun! Here we were, four California boys in the heart of Africa, jamming until the wee hours. Freaking awesome!

This morning we got up and showered and stuff. There’s no water pressure here. It’s more like a faint trickle and you have to make it quick because there’s not much hot water. Each bathroom has a small water heater in it that holds probably 15 gallons or so. You also have to take care not to get water in your mouth. The water here is bad and will make you sick unless you boil it first so we have to use bottled water for brushing our teeth and drinking. We ate breakfast this morning but all they had was fruit. So I had my first Ethiopian banana. Not bad. Much more bruised than American fruit, but nothing to complain about.

I then stepped outside  to survey the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is basically a shanty town. The “houses” are basically stick frames with aluminum siding nailed to it. Some are built of sticks and a kind of mud mixture. I suddenly feel incredibly guilty to be living in this nice house, while everyone around us lives in shacks. I don’t even see how those places could protect somebody from the elements.

The town is starting to bustle with activity. Women are dumping used water into the street. People walking about. Kids in school sweaters are heading to class. They wave when they see us. Obviously a white person is an oddity in this neighborhood and they are curious.

We’re headed to somebody’s house to visit for a bit and sketch out the week, then we’ll go from there.

January 16, Wednesday, 8:30PM Ethiopian Time

Wow, what a day! We met James and Jennifer today. A fantastic couple who live here and run the Educational Resource Center. We had a really great time visiting with them and threw down some worship in their living room.  Good times. Then we hit the city for a tour.

We split into two groups and had some locals as our guides. I don’t know their full names. The names here are really hard to remember. So we called them Dee and Ged for short.  I got some time to talk to Ged and hear a little bit about him. He went to University here in Addis and graduated with a Computer Science degree. Apparently how the education system works here is like this; After high school you take an exam and that exam tells the government what kinds of things you are good at. Then, if you qualify, the government places you into a curriculum based on your test scores. So I gather that unless you are rich, you simply don’t get to choose what you want to do, and most probably don’t even get the opportunity to go to college at all. Anyway, Ged was good at computers, and so that’s what he studied. Unfortunately, unemployment is 60% in Addis. So even with a 3.6 GPA and degree Ged can’t find a job. It’s heartbreaking.

Our other guide, Dee, is studying to be a pastry chef. He took us to a cafe where his good friend and culinary mentor works. He was so excited for us to meet him. That was really neat. It was fun talking to him as well. His English is spotty and we know no Amharic so communicating was an adventure, but with a bunch of gesturing and a lot of laughter, we managed to have a great conversation with him. It turns out that Dee is an Orthodox Christian and today was fasting day. Apparently the Orthodox fast two days a week which basically means no cow products. Interesting.

So, some things that struck me about Addis Ababa; The infrastructure is an absolute mess; completely chaotic. There seems to be an amazing amount of people just hanging out in the streets with nothing to do. Poverty is everywhere. Extreme poverty. Words cannot even describe what you see on the streets. America’s poor would be considered kings here and that is no exaggeration.

I saw beggars everywhere. People with horrible burn wounds and deformed limbs begging for scraps or spare change. Naked children, filthy, standing in the streets. Old women sitting against the buildings begging for food. I nearly stepped on one woman who was sleeping in the center of the sidewalk. I saw a guy with withered legs, walking on his hands begging for change. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. Yet at the same time, I saw well dressed businessmen and stylish women walking the same streets. Not many mind you. But there are a few here who are better off. It quickly became apparent that there is no middle class here. Most are dirt poor and a few are living relatively comfortable lives. But anyone who looks really well off seems to be either a tourist, or some kind of government official, either local or foreign (there are a lot of embassies here).

Another interesting observation; It’s common for men to walk down the street with arms around each other or holding hands. Homosexuality is pretty much non-existent here though, so this is simply a sign of friendship.

After touring the city we went to an old woman’s house named Zudito who performed a coffee ceremony for us. Coffee is a big thing here in Ethiopia. It’s the biggest export and Ethiopians take great pride in their coffee.

So a coffee ceremony is just something people do here. It involves clearing a space outside the home and laying down grass and setting stools around for people to sit. They first wash the coffee beans by hand, then place them on a kind of flat wok looking pan and roast them over hot coals. The smell of roasting coffee is fantastic. Once the beans are roasted, they put them into a cup and grind them by hand. I was invited to help in this and I considered it a great honor. Once the coffee is ground they place it in a pot called a Jebena along with water. Then it’s placed on the coals. There is a second set of coals where they burn incense which smelled really good. During this whole process they passed around popcorn (unflavored, and not microwaved!) and also barley and some other kind of nut or something. It was all very good to snack on. Once the coffee is done they pour it into tiny shot glass sized cups. The coffee is VERY strong and they put a lot of sugar in it. I have to say it was, as Mica likes to say, delightful, I was immediately hooked on it and had several cups.

We visited for a bit and it was interesting to hear this woman’s story. She told us how her husband had recently died and her son committed suicide. It was heartbreaking to hear, yet I was really touched by her kindness and generosity toward our large group of complete strangers. I know of almost no Americans who would show this kind of hospitality.

After the visit we went to an American style restaurant for dinner. It was an interesting day all in all. It was exciting to meet new people and experience the culture. Yet at the same time saddening to see so much pain. I felt embarrassed to be taking pictures and being treated with such kindness while being surrounded by hurting people. It was an emotional day.