Ethiopia blog


“You gotta go man!!” Jostein flashes a massive smile and preemptively claps and shouts as I get up from our table. I steady my feet on the straw covered floor. 'Hands on knees, shake dem shoulders, shake em!' I think to myself. Half frantic, half composed, I lurch and shake across the floor. The dim red light reflects on my sweaty hair, as the local crowd of 2-3 dozen begin to respect my moves. Well that may be pushing it but they aren’t laughing at me. For what seems like an eternity - but was most likely 5 minutes or so - one of the dancers and I encircle each other. We throw moves back and forth at one another, pausing to sing or shout. When I take my seat I’m all laughs. I even got a thumbs up from a nearby patron or two. Jostein and I are at Fendika:


It’s a local Amharic dancing spot. Jostein has been to another dancing place in Addis, but immediately he tells me this is different. The atmosphere is subdued when we get there, the first to arrive. The bar staff don’t speak much English, there isn’t even a stage but a clearing in the middle of the domed, cozy room. Pictures of dancers, musicians, and friends cover the walls. Carpets and cushions line the edges of the room. There is a young guy, maybe 18 or 19, warming up on the drums. Another, older man begins to pluck his one string guitar. His instrument is part banjo, part violin, completely low-fi creation. At the bottom is a hollow, thin box that is strapped to a large wooden stick which acts as the neck of the instrument. Running lengthwise is one long string played with a bow made of a curved branch and a thin string. The drums are similarly DYI. I feel a first-day-of-school anticipation: WTF is about to happen? We’ve chosen the closest seats to the action and I’m wondering what that is going to bring.

If you haven’t seen Amharic or Ethiopian dancing, take a look below:


Before the dancers show up, the banj-olin man signals to the drummer – who now has a massive grin on his face – to lay down an up tempo walking beat which will carry us through the night. Banjolin man walks over to the table next to us. There are eight or so locals having drinks and generally being loud and happy. They look up at him and he stops strumming and listens. He sharply plays two notes, says-sings a line or two, sharply plays another, blurts out another quick line or two, makes one final stoke on the banjo-thing, pauses for comedic timing and lays down the final line to complete the roast on one of the guys. The table bursts into laughter and Banjolin man dives into a twangy melody. The roast-ee stands up and shakes what his momma gave him. Jostein and I look at each other and laugh, with not a clue what has been said. This roast of the audience continues for some time. I’m not sure who is enjoying the interactions more as everyone seems fine being laughed at. Of course he can’t resist us and when he approaches us, pauses and says ‘where from, where from friends?’ We are now ‘Norway’ and ‘America’ for the rest of the night. While we don’t know what he said to get one of the biggest laughs so far, we certainly don’t have a problem being part of the night. Turns out that wouldn’t be a problem.

Lighting and part of the banjolin

Lighting and part of the banjolin

“Oh, they have Tej here!” Jostein says excitedly. Tej is a honey wine made primarily in Ethiopia and Eritrea. You can’t buy it in stores; it’s only available where it’s made, usually bars and restaurants. We each get a porron-type vessel and man, it does not taste as strong as it is. After another Tej, or possibly two, the dancers come out to a well lubricated and rowdy crowd. Two men and two women, in full Amharic dress – the women wearing flowing full length dresses with colorful long scarfs as a belt and the men in silk like pants up to their bellybuttons. No shoes were worn. Although this style of dance is primarily from the waist up – shoulders and head, shoulders and head - we were in awe. Watching these rhythmic magicians felt like stepping into a wind tunnel of dancing turned on full blast. First the women went one at a time, picking up pace with the drummer. He still had a huge smile on his face. With alternating beats, the women brought themselves lower and lower to the ground, gyrating their heads back and forth on the alternating. They would chant, strong and powerful words as they shook their heads and pushed out their shoulders. Inevitably, the first woman comes to our table and places her hand out. “You gotta go man!!”

The men follow, and I was wrong to think that legs weren’t used in Amharic dancing. One leg out to waist level, then the other. One leg out, then the other. If we felt in a wind tunnel before, this was a tornado; the man’s legs picked up speed. Maybe it was the Tej, or the low lighting, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever seen limbs move faster than that. Jostein approached the part spring part man afterwards and asked him how he became a super human: spider bite? Bionic legs? ‘Practice’ is all he said, ‘practice’. After several more rounds of dancing by the both of us, including a shake-off between Jostein and one of the male dancers, we are the last guests standing. Impressed, sweaty, happy, and tired, we make our exit on my last full night in Ethiopia. 

Ethiopia day 10: Chechnya

“In Addis Ababa, a no does not mean no” Ziggy tilts his head back and lets out a laugh. He has assured me that using this fine cement wall as a urinal is commonplace and we shouldn’t be bothered by the pseudo-guard approaching us across the street. After a short conversation, we are allowed to proceed as I am a ‘guest’ of the city and thus must have such rights. It’s a bit strange but in the time I've been here I’ve seen many public places used for these purposes, often in the mid-day sun.

Several hours earlier a group of ex-pats and Ethiopians are eating Chinese food. Good Chinese food actually, sharing spoons from a giant circular hot broth vat which meat, veggies, and noodles are dropped into. We risk it and go for the hot version and pay dearly. Innocent bystanders that enter the room inevitably double over in coughs and bleary eyes. Several members of the party leave for an extended smoke break; only the strong and furious stand our ground. The pepper screams at us. Bring more napkins please, they are desperately needed. I hadn’t planned a nasal irrigation over dinner, but spices aside it was the best Asian-African food I’ve ever had.

“That place is alright, but if you want an experience.. an experience! [10 second pause and intense stare] Then you come with me to Chechnya. This other place where the Viking (Jostein) is going to, blah! No humanity, nothing real to hold onto. You know what I mean? That is some boring shit, not my scene. Not at all. So what do you want? An experience or some pretentious bullshit?”

The man makes a good point, while Jostein is already bound with new friends to what is the most Western of bars/clubs in Addis, Vincent and I are being offered a different trip entirely. What exactly Ziggy is talking about though, we can only imagine. As he pulls a final drag out of the n-­­th­ cigarette of the night, his black tie simmers under the orange street light. Ziggy is a self-proclaimed mad man of Ethiopia, running one of the biggest ad agencies in the country, bringing experience of many years living and working in new York city. His all black suit, shoes, and leather messenger bag help his case. His voice, with raspy tones that compliment his trade, trails off into the night, “a real damn experience”



“Alright boys get ready” Ziggy warns me and Vincent. As we enter the street I look ahead and see the spectacle that awaits us. Chechnya has a Vegas type of feel to it: neon blasts from the numerous bars and tiny clubs, alcohol is all over the streets and other drugs are surely accompanied. As we walk past the first bar, Vincent and I are assaulted. Two women lock arms with us and start to pull us in to the little parlour. Their decisive move leaves no room for disagreement. We are going with them; they go deadweight, dragging the poor white boys into the bar. Music is loud and communication is non-existent. Luckily Ziggy is there for us and buys everyone drinks. I give him a questioning look and he cracks up. “Yes, they’re all prostitutes. Well mostly. What I’ll say is this; there is always an option for more.” Shaking our heads, Vincent and I can’t help but laugh at where we have found ourselves. They don't make places like this in Cambridge. The bars here, and many others in Addis are formed from shipping containers. In places like this it's best just to order beer since well.. you know what's inside. Vincent decides to get a ‘black label’ whiskey. One sip of digust and I see why sticking with beer is the right choice. A pick-pocket is attempted on my wallet-less pocket (I'm not an idiot) and we decide to move on. 

Morally questionable dancing is the best way to describe what followed. Not questionable in the dancing itself but what it was supporting. Anytime the women danced with someone at the bar/club they would ask for a drink. As Ziggy said 'more was an option'. They must have made some sort of commission from the bar depending on how many drinks they ‘sold’. Prostitution is not illegal in Ethiopia and endemic in the capital. Some estimates go over 100,000 daily workers. Many corners are patrolled each night and Chechnya we find out, is the epicenter. “I take my wife here” Ziggy assures us, but I'm not sure how that makes it any better. Although they didn't all seem to be pursuing their dreams, many of the women seemed.. just fine: not strung out, underage or otherwise miserable. Yet Vincent and I are unsure of what to make of all of this. On one hand, neither of us want to support this type of economic venture, on the other it's a very unique experience for us North Americans and just like the ocean, the waves are going to crash on the shores of Chechya whether we are here to see it or not.

On our way out of mini-Vegas, we pass that first bar and the same girl run after us. They make initial contact (more of a full on assault) but we are veteran pro’s now and continue onwards. After using the wall-urinal, we make a taxi ride to Jostein. “You can’t come in here like that” the bouncer tells me, eyeing my shorts. I'm turned away from the door but It's alright, my night has been eventful enough. What contrasts I continue to find here.  

Ethiopia Day 9: soiled


“Ferengi! Ferengi! China!” a group of three young boys, sporting sandals and western clothes try and keep pace with Jostein and I. I'm not sure if they actually think we are Chinese or have melted the term to apply to all foreigners. The ground is soft and at times muddy,. We hop over small make-shift bridges that gap streams of water mixed with less pleasurable things. We’re going for a run in the neighborhood behind the apartment complex. Jostein assures me this isn’t a slum but I can’t help but feel that in some ways it is. Lack of running water, house stacked by house made of shipping containers, sheet metal, & scrap. Narrow and packed streets. Walkways made by feet and not cement, no school or grass or park or public space. Strong smells of things acidic, rotten, fresh. Everywhere there are kids roaming & calling at us, little stores selling meat and water, smell of sewage material. One strong sign of change now turns our run into an obstacle course as thousands of grey bricks are being laid into the main thoroughfare. Jostein tells me the government is supporting this project, providing the material for them, which includes gravel to lay foundation and shovels to complete the job.

“Good job, keep coming!” I wave forward the surviving boy now a few hundred meters from where we found him. He gives a giant sigh, hands on his knees as the ground turns to incline and he trails off, yelling something to us as we continue on. I give him a thumbs up and he smiles. Running along the airport, I see lookout towers and accompanying small huts the soldiers must live in. A scarecrow stands guard outside. The setting sun nestles atop the next hill. I swear there is more incline than there should be. A group of construction workers listen to Amharic music and smoke cigarettes as they sit upon some wooden scaffolding. They whistle and call to us.

The feeling of being in a place so different from where you come, so utterly tangent to your experiences is refreshing. I remember summers spent of my teenage years playing and working outside collecting pollen, pine, sweat, and other collections from my surroundings. Nothing felt better than taking a full run at the swimming pool and breaking the surface of the water, letting the water rip away all the smuck. As a member of the ‘West’, I feel this same breaking of the surface. Layers of comfort & regulation that so easily sneak upon us, cover us in its excrements slowly and quietly, weighing us down without our explicit consent. We become so damn comfortable checking out Gmail accounts and complaining about that little thorn or stubbed toe. It’s not our fault; our nature is to adapt and take for granted. For survival, for regularity & sanity. However, just like that feeling after a overdue shower or a dip in the pool, taking another view of the world can be beneficial, therapeutic. I’m not in Ethiopia for a long period, nor do I pretend to be slumming it while I’m here. Yet while travelling my attempts always - if possible - absorb the local soil & life & feel. In the hopes that I may take some with me, to diversify my own crops. 

My tactile observation has been grounding. Similar to how I feel after a few days in a national park, I'm starting to get that enveloping feeling of the unwound life. In contrast to the hectic and busy life on the streets here, over a week without many of the usual comforts of the west is relaxing. The pressure is off. No need to be hooked in and turn on to each update, newsfeed. That time away makes me ponder the importance we're putting on our digital life's in the first place. What's it really doing for us beneath the surface? Yeah I know, idealistic thinking is just that, and the world ain't changin'. In fact only going further in that direction, and that's alright. But these dives into something anew, I like them. I have the feeling I won't quite be ready to leave when the time comes.

Ethiopia day 8: factory photo shoot

“Sure, sure no problem” my heart picks up to a gallop after this confirmation. I don’t have the lens I really want but I’ll make due. I know we won’t have much time here and I also feel a bit invasive despite the approval. But this is exciting, quick photography I can try out. I notice a woman putting the finishing touches on the soles of some new black shoes. Another woman dipping her brush into glue. A man turning and bending leather on a sewing machine. The manager’s assistant is behind me, keeping me on my toes. Although he doesn’t say anything, his eyes are following me. The rows of random bits and pieces, the polisher & finishing line. The workers interactions have a practiced feel, will I capture it?

Jostein and Vincent have invited me to come on a factor visit with them. Central to their research are interviews with managers of private companies and government officials involved in industry, specifically textile and leather goods. I’m their ‘research assistant’ and today, really just an excited boy with a camera at a leather-goods factory. The manager is joyfully discussing and answers questions from the other two while I spend every second looking for a photo. We’re in and out in under ten minutes, but I’m happy with what results I’m able to get.


After leaving the factory we walk across the hard ground, scattered with cardboard boxes and packing material, and enter the corporate office building for a more formal interview continues. I pull out my journal and do my best to look like I’m doing something important, but mostly I'm writing random notes and circling words while nodding. I’ve never done qualitative research but I can see why the data is called ‘rich’. There is no way to control for how one person will answer a question compared to their colleague, and the breadth of results and the biases that may accompany them cannot be avoided. But it’s interesting and organic to see how a story is formed, the consistencies and mysteries that arise as Jostein and Vincent predict the mangers answers using knowledge from previous reports and readings. The man looks surprised, and elaborates on some of the difficulties and successes of the bolstering economy. Many companies face a problem of employee turnover; after training unskilled workers for up to months at a time, they are liable to leave for the slightest pay grade. This company and many others offer supringsling good employee packages that can include free transport, healthcare, meals, training, and bi-yearly bonuses. This factory is about to expand, increasing workers by an order of magnitude, and increasing production by another order on top of that.


It’s an exciting time for many companies in Ethiopia, as they find themselves as one of Africa’s quickest growing economies. Importantly, this is paired with one of the continents highest equality ratings indicating their growth may be a healthy one. This may be due to the fact the country has never been colonized, and one can observe how other, less lucky economy’s has fared at nearly every bordering country. Or maybe this growth is due to the intellectual-minded high officials. Regardless, the streets of Addis Ababa provide the platform to observe the growth, and despair, that co-exist in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia day 7: looking, observing life

“Just don’t look down.” Jostein tells me. No, we’re not on a cliff or in some perilous scenario. This is more dangerous. We’re 4 hours in on a 9 hour journey back to Addis, and we’ve stopped for lunch in a small town. What is he referring to, of course, is the hole in the ground restroom that are used by hundreds – if not more – daily. What really gets me about this place is that the adjacent corridor from these black holes are hotel rooms to rent. My imagination is expansive but it’s hard to picture a series of events that would end with me resting my head there. Before my thoughts can turn any worse, we make our way back on the bus. Not making the same mistake twice, we book ourselves into a larger (actual) bus and grab an extra seat for our bags. This was a good choice. But this entry isn’t about the lengthy bus ride and the agony that accompanies such journeys, but instead is about looking about windows.

Yeah man, just like that

Yeah man, just like that

Looking out windows is like going to an authentic Korean restaurant in New York. Or a great Chinese spot in Melbourne, or a Burger joint in New Delhi. Looking out the window gives you the real thing, without the commitment. You’re detached from the scene by a sheet of metal, momentum, and a few meters. Yet you get the picture, sound, and sometimes smell. I’ve never been so entranced by looking out the window as I have on this trip. It’s incredible, whether I’m in Addis - the heart of a  6 million person city - or the middle of tim-buck-too village with 100 people, there is something grabbing my attention. I told Jostein that while yes, clearly, I would always choose flying (as anyone would) as my superpower without much thought, the ability to freeze time would be invaluable on this trip. Every block in Addis or every mile outside of it there is an amazing photo. Why? To me, it is the sheer volume of activity that takes place outside here. Food is sold, livestock is moved, children play, fields are tended, old men sleep, women sell corn, young men talk shit, things are going on! Combine that with sights of a developing country beginning to industrialize; dirt roads meeting satellites on tin shacks, straw huts and Nike shoes and you have some great photos and experiences to capture.


There is some sort of honesty I see on this trip that I respect greatly. Often when I walk around London it’s usually unclear how the zoo of people are feeling, what they’re doing, who they are. A sort of blending takes place. There is clarity here. What it boils down to is that the people just...  they are more here than they are in London. The saturation of their lives is turned up. It may be that I’m new to this culture and simply making more observations. Yet I can’t help but feel this transparency in the dozens of villages and towns we pass in the countryside, as well as across Addis Ababa. The authentic experience is what we all seek and pursue in some way or another. I’m seeing it here more than in my other travels. Or maybe, it’s been there all along, and I’m developing the tools to take it in.


Windows are the door to empathy. Throw it open when you go somewhere new and observe. Stare even, what are they going to do, run down the car? Let yourself take in the sensory experience of the place, and leave yourself out of it. Observing also helps pass the time when all there is to do is sit. On the drive back today I took notes for a few minutes on sights that passed me by:

-A woman in a pungent yellow burka bathed in morning light tends her longhorn cows

-A man leans on a clay house which has bright blue outlined windows. His green scarf is wrapped around his head and face, red trousers spattered with dirt and earth.

-a metal line span several meters between two gnarled and twisted trees, sporting a family’s laundry: deep red, blue, yellow and red.

-a young girl stretches, extending her arms with whip in one hand, as her donkey pulls her along on a wooden trailer with wooden, crooked wheels.

-two teen-aged girls tend a well, in full turquoise dress.

-an old man lays on a small hill, stomach to the sky as his donkeys sip from the stream nearby. His checkered blue and black scarf falls across his face and onto the earth beside him.

-a swarm of goats and horses close in on a straw hut, currently smoking from all pores of something sweet and thick.

-in the distance rolling hills expose sharp rows of brown and orange rock teeth, crowing the green valleys below.

-an elderly woman wearing all black hijab sells oranges and lemons, reflecting on the fabric across her arms.

-a cluster of villagers with colors and shapes taken from an abstract painting center around an event out of my vision. A constant stream of words and comments enter the bus.

-an elevated shack with tin roof covers several boys, who sit upon each ring of the wooden ladder above the ground.

-a brown clay home has been aerated with hundreds of holes. A short haired, slender dog stretches for the day across the darkened entry way.

-A school playground made of salvaged wood has been brightly painted. Each structure is in use by playful children. The earth around the net-less soccer posts is deeply worn. The  wall of the school has the words ‘be the powerful change’ written across it.

I don’t remember how long I took notes for, but it certainly wasn’t for more than 15 or 20 minutes. Next time you go for a drive, think of what you see. 

Ethiopia Day 6: the endangered shower


“Don’t get out of the car” Tamam demands in his monotone, calm demenor.

“Is it because it’s not safe or to not scare them off?” I ask. He simply puts his index finger over his mouth and points out the window

There are approximately 400 Ethiopian wolves left, 280 of them in this park. Tamam tells us this with confidence as his last job was working as a conservation researcher following the wolves. At times he would walk 30km a day to track their movements and behavior. He tells us the lifestyle was one of solitude; his fellow wolf-chasers only met in the evenings after long days of running in the sun. The endangered species biggest threat is now from other members of the dog family. Namely via rabies, killing dozens of the wolf each month. Looking through my pictures, I notice that many of the dogs have tags on their ears. Curious, I ask Tamam. “Tag means they have vaccine. Many more need tags”

This was my first encounter with a endangered species, and it was a special one. The wolves have a incredible sense of smell, able to pick up our scent nearly half a kilometre away. However, they have no negative associations with the landcruiser or any other big stationary hunk of metal and are completely unaffected by our presence. When Tamam stops the car, I have no clue what he is on about. After a minute of pointing, I see three dots in the distance. It’s incredible he was able to spot them in a moving car. The plateau we’re on, nearly 3,500 meters above the sea, is a martian-esque landscape and the wolves blend in with the shrubs and rock. “It was the job, not skill you lose.” Within a minute of stopping, the wolves are in camera range and continuing our way. They trot with grace, stopping every 50 meters or so to scan the horizon and look for dinner; one of the dozens of rat species that make up this landscape. Walking around on this massive plateau and you see the rats routes and holes, with the little guys darting between them with gusto and rigour. The pack of three wolves come even closer, without giving us a glance they cross the road. Snapping away, I put my camera down for a moment and simply take in these creatures. It’s heartbreaking to think in a few years time the species may never recover.  

“When we drive by, you take photos? Yes?” I roll down my window and a flood of colors enters my lens. Fresh cabbage and carrots laid out on the red earth, women dressed in rich, deep grab. Sheet metal dons the small shacks and buildings, vibrant and bright. Even the plastic tarps bring sharp hues.

We’ve just finished my favorite meal of the trip. It was humble, fresh, and delicious. Local honey, the kind that makes you want to take the word organic and put it in a blender to never be used again. Taken from wild bee’s nests in the forest, the stuff is unlike any other. Cabbage-like greens grown in the backyard of many houses here, simply prepared and salted. Both are eaten with Himbasha, a focaccia-pita type bread that does a noble job complimenting these flavors. We’re also given this bread fried up in butter, honey, and some red-orange spice. A young boy brings us the food, ducking under a the small entrance of a straw hut. Fresh coffee follows This rural village stands out in rural villages. On our trip being a westerner draws instant attention, but this was show-stopping. Old men came and sat on stools nearby and just looked at us. No words, simply taking in our white skin and strange clothes. On par with what I’ve come to expect the children were the most curious, running over when we got out of the car. The village itself isn't longer than 50 strides from Usain Bolt, but is covered with people, color, and life. As we soak up the honey, some bee’s come by to take part. Or maybe they are trying to take back what was first theirs. Regardless, Jostein is not having it, quickly noting ‘bad childhood experiences’. The towering Viking man is brought down by these cm creatures of the flower and air. So it goes this strange dance we’re all in.


We’re in the forest now, and I must say I have high standards for this term. In England I’ve been to a couple so called forests that represent more of a county park or bunch of trees. A forest should be immense and overpowering. A large blade should be required to get through once the path ends. We’re in a forest today. Life sprouts from the sprouts of the branches of the branches. Ferns grown on the shoots dead trees and flowers pop up from the floor to the canopy far above. Rain is daily here, feeding the non-stop cycle of flora and fauna that make up the Harenna forest. There is even a forest lion here, a god damn forest lion. We saw a couple colombus monkeys, with their tuxedo colors and long bushy tails. They’re extremely shy and unintelligent, but pretty, kind of like that first crush who doesn’t respond to your note you sent during recess. Jostein can’t help but swing on the tarzan branches that surround us, giving this place a feel very different from the forests I’m used to in Washington. Our time here is over too quickly, and Tamam remind us that we could have stayed in the village, in the straw huts near where we ate. Next time, next time.

Instead, Jostein and I find ourselves taking turns sending high-frequency screams into the stratosphere during our freezing cold showers. We're in the little town Robe, equipt with a teachers college and a bus stop to Addis. “In Ethiopia, you get American movies before warm showers” Jostein tells me, as he turns up the volume. The movie on the screen is cliché as it gets: the state championship football game, final play, our star the quarterback is injured, but you betcha he’ll tough it out. The announcers remind us of his rough n tumble childhood and single mother - cut to a shot of her now, drinking by herself, crying to the radio. Back to our star, calling an audible on the last play after looking into the eyes of his sweetheart, a hundred yards away. He takes the ball himself, dives.. and! The movie cuts to 20 years later and he’s the good guy sheriff in the same little town, married to his sweetheart, reminiscing about that state championship. The water is cold on my armpit.

Ethiopia Day 5 part II: O-Romio

“You” I point at the screen of the camera “you, it’s you”. The boy looks at me and smiles. In Addis ‘you’ is used to get the attention of foreigners walking down the street. Now I’m using it to communicate with children working with livestock in a rural town. It’s Monday at about 10am and the field is full of children working with sheep, cows, and other livestock. Do they go to school? I’m unsure, but they are more knowleable about farming than I am at a quarter of my age.


As I posted a few days ago, portrait photography was one of my goals to pursue this trip. I hoped that today as we walked into the park I would get the opportunity to take one or maybe two portraits. I vastly underestimated the openness and friendliness of the Oromo people who live here. With a population of over 25 million inhabitants in Ethiopia, the Oromo make up more of the population than any of the 80+ ethnic groups. In this town of Dinsho, where the population is largely Oromi and speak Oromic before Amharic (official national language), I find myself in the right place to have a camera. On our way out to start the hike, Tamam stops to get a few liters of water for the day. I notice a couple of guys looking at us and I point to my camera. They smile. I was ecstatic, already getting an opportunity!

Onwards and in the community grass field the children were even more engaging. A few ran over, donning clothes from brightly colored scarfs to beige blazer jackets. Many did not know what to do when I pointed the camera at them. Starting with smiles, at times they would sharply transition to a look of severe sobriety and solitude. Sometimes I captured the serious, and other times I was able to catch their initial joy.

A 50 meter canyon, carved by the river below divides park from the townland. As we approach it I can see villagers from the other side making their way across. How many times this trek has been made I can only imagine. Beneath us, a bridge connects the park to the town. I ask Tamam how long the bridge has been there but he can only say ‘before the time of my father’. 


As we climb above 3500 meters and reach the summit, Jostein and I ask Tamam whom a lifelong resident of Dinsho if he is tired. ‘No, no problem’, he grins. This is his habitat. I see this both in his appearance – the highland dwellers of Ethiopia have increased hemoglobin levels - and how comfortable he is walking the cattle paths and talking with the local highland farmers.

Coming back to town we once again cross the well-worn bridge. Two boys with a curious look on their faces stand near the canyon cliff. I wave at them and they excitedly return one. I point to my camera and they nod. It’s hard to contain my excitement when anyone here has let me take a photo, but this scene was particularly pinch-worthy. 

We then entered Dinsho on our way back to the lodge. We stop in at a local coffee shop for some oil-thick black lightening. From my time looking out windows (a future post will focus on this), life in Ethiopia cannot be separated from the roads. Kids run around using their homemade toys, the cements reflects hums of many voices while livestock shuffle with the whip of their owner’s wrist.

Just before we get back to the log, we pass an elderly gentleman, clearly enjoying his afternoon with style. Before I can approach him for a must-have photo opportunity, he says to me ‘camera’ and does his best 1950’s Hollywood pose. He starts to get up and I insist he stays in his chilled-out state. What I hoped would be one or two photos turned into many more than I could have hoped for. I’m not sure I’ll have another day like this one with the Oromi people for a long time. 

Ethiopia day 5 part I: the hunt

Silently, Tamam pokes at the brown, freshly turned earth. His eyes are big and intensely concentrated. To me, the dirt looks... well like dirt. But I give him a knowing confirmation nod. He waves us forward and ducks under the curved trees in front of us.

 For 10 minutes we lightly jog away from town and the path to the lodge. Where is he taking us? We then stop in a clearing and look down to a small field of brown, worn grass. We pause for a minute in silence. I’m starting to think we lost the hunt, or question if there was a hunt to begin with. Then, I see it. Head bobbing low into the grass, a long slender dog with black spots is near the edge of the field. Collectively our heart rates rise a hundred beats and we’re in full pursuit, it’s a lone hyena. Jostein and I trail our mountain guide as he elegantly dodges holes and mounds while keeping his gaze up ahead. We pause every couple minutes to make sure not to lose the predator, hearts still blazing with the pursuit. We make it down to the grasslands and are in full stride. Tamam runs with little effort, his body barely wasting any movement at a pace I feel he could keep all day. With all the adrenaline pumping through my veins I’m temporarily in a similar state. We are catching up. The grass here is the perfect hunting height for the dog, hiding all but the tops of its head. We are signaled to stop on a cleared cattle path. It’s silent as we scan the grass in front of us. Tamam snaps his fingers and points repeatedly. Ears:

 It’s a blurry and rushed photo, but I’m still surprised I could think to use the camera. Jostein later told me he locked eyes with the hyena, one of the most successful predators in Africa. Just being that close was exciting enough, and as the dog darted off and escaped our gaze, it set in this was an experience I wasn’t to forget. We wandered the tall grass for several more minutes hoping to get another tail or trail, but we were finally duped. It was great to see Tamam as excited as the foreigners, it really  added something, like this wasn’t an everyday run in. He confirms this saying that hyena’s, as nocturnal hunters, are rarely seen at 2pm. Moreover, this must have been a lone male, exiled for not sharing a previous kill with the pack. 

8:30 that morning and Jostein and I are waiting on the deck of the lodge. “That is the weirdest hiking outfit I’ve ever seen” Jostein tells me after we met Tamam, who will be with us the next two days. He’s wearing a Mickey Mouse polo with a black blazer, jeans, and white Nike’s with a red swoosh. Our plan for the day is to take a hike in the northern part of the park which makes up the grasslands and some small mountains. After a stroll through the town of Dinsho we’re out in the open fields with the green rolling hills around. It comes to mind that some of the oldest humans were believed to come from Ethiopia. Did the ancestors of modern man walk fields similar to this? The landscape now takes on a different feel as I try and imagine the connection to our humanity, genome, and sense of wonder for nature that this place - or at least one like it - may have help bring about.

 “It’s in my blood, when I see a peak, I want to stand on top of it” Jostein tells Tamam as we decide to make the hike to a nearby mountain. “It doesn’t look too high anyways” he has now sealed our fate for a hard climb. Up we go, and on the other side of the ridge we see the biggest nearby village. Even from the distance we are, making houses look ant-sized, deep ruts can be seen ground into the red-orange earth. This village has been here for many, many years we are told, and the paths are used every day by the people. Even the trail we walk on now is not ‘meant’ for getting to the summit but one for livestock and livelihood. “How do they get water?” I ask Tamam. He tells me, “Where there is water, there is man”, implying that many of the rivers and streams in the area will be accompanied with clay and straw huts, fields of vegetables, and humanity.

 “Is that the summit?” Jostein asks. I naively reckon it is, sweat now cool on my back. Of course it’s not the top, as we now see where the actual conquered-it spot lies. It’s a classic mistake of the hiker, asking how far is left or pondering on where the summit it. Rarely does this reduce the pain in the legs or burning in the chest. Jostein pushes forward, calling upon the Nordic gods of calf power and reaches the top shortly before me. We have a nearly 360 degree view of the surrounding park, and after a solid high-five of summit solidarity we soak it in. It’s silent up there, and our only guests are fluttering about:

 Not a bad place to have lunch, and we do so sharing our packed sandwiches with Tamam. With no rush, we spend some time overlooking the valleys and watch a herd of cattle with a villager a couple hundred meters below. Farmers at nearly 4000 meters. In the distance we spot a lammergeyer, and if you’ve watched the TV show ‘Life’ or ‘Planet Earth’ you may know what a bad-ass creature of the air this is. Also known as a bearded vulture, these guys grab left over bones, bring them up, and boom! Drop them repeatedly on sharp rocks. Once down to a sufficiently small size, they gobble them up. Really, they tilt their head back and swallow the bone pieces whole. Their stomach acid – stronger than the stuff at a grateful dead reunion bus tour – disintegrates the bone and leaves the nutritious marrow. Watching this massive bird soar above, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. It’s silly to say nature is peaceful, as it is clear that we humans are just hectic. If given back to the planet, nature is in harmony much of the time. If we took some time to sit in the woods or on a mountain, we’d see all we have to do is let it come to us.

Ethiopia day 4 part II: Bah-lay

“Mountain Nyala, yes, many of them” Muzeyen, our fixer for the park tells us that these mythical beasts are very common. We’ve just entered the reserve and are fixated on this member of the antelope family. In the days to come these would be very common run-ins. Simply, I’ve never seen so much wildlife in one place. The Bale Mountains are nearly predator-less, leaving warthogs and antelope to dominate the landscape. Washington back country is full of peaks and lakes. While Bale is short on these, it is bursting with life: 47 species of mammals, 282 birds (9.5% of world diversity), and 1,000+ plants scatter the massive 2,150 km2 park.

We are dropped off at the Dinsho lodge, our home for the next few days located inside the park itself. We walk in the lodge and out the window are a pack of another antelope family member, ears perked at our arrival. There is no one else at the lodge, so the three employees who live on-site are there just for us. Kings of the lodge. The manager is a young guy, always wearing a blue zip up hoodie with the hood on. The kitchen is run by two girls, both around 20 years old. On our arrival they are incredibly shy, but roast some beans and pour some coffee. Have you smelled roasted coffee beans? It’s similar to popcorn. After they’re done roasting, were offered a smell of the pan and grab a few beans to munch on. Eat your heart out Starbucks.

After setting a schedule for the rest of our time at the park with Muzeyen, we head off for an afternoon stroll. Just a couple hundred meters from the lodge and we are stopped above a small valley by a family of warthogs. Their stout bodies and long, curved tusks call something from a childhood safari story. We’re both in awe, assuming this may be a rare sight. Slowly we approach the pack, unsure if they will charge us or run off. We later find out there are no dangerous mammals in the park, aside from the extremely rare rain forest lion. Seriously, there are lions in the rain forest here. The warthogs run off despite our ridiculous crouched approach in the ankle-high grassy field, but we are already giggling with excitement. We get back on the trail and another pack of warthogs in front of us. To our left are bohor reedbuck. Small and red, delicate looking animals. We start to realize the sheer volume of life around us. We continue up the path and in the distance is a straw hut, sitting atop a small ridge. In the field in front of us a warthog group gather, and two males charge directly at one another. I point my camera and:


I’m a national geographic photographer! Well maybe not, but I feel like one and that’s enough. We walk through the tall and curvy trees that make much the forest around us. Light darts in and out, making a dramatic scene with dark clouds moving in overhead. As we wander on well-worn walkways, the sounds of a village pick up in the distance. The rain pops on the orchestra of leafs above. The park contains many small of these villages. None of the ones we encountered had running water, electricity, or HBO. The villagers maintain an old and traditional lifestyle, living off the land and venturing into town on donkey and horse to trade in the weekly market. They are the Oromo people, which compose nearly 1/3 of the Ethiopian population. However, these clans have been in the Bale area for some time. Some estimate date back over a millennia. While I can't imagine living a life without HBO, their longevity makes me think they have managed somehow.

We find a clearing from the trees and spend some time laying in the sun with the valley we just drove through drowned in golden hour sunlight. The only sounds reaching our ears are a cluster of chirping birds and Nyala bounding down the hill in front of us. A falcon or some big bird hovers ahead, appearing to be suspended in peace from where I lay. As we fall asleep with heads in the grass I can only think ‘We’ve made it. The city is far, far away’.

Ethiopia day 4 part I: Mini-bus

An explosion of shouts and calls sound off as a group of young men run in sandals over the uneven earth and encircle us. Robe? Awassa? Adaba? Ferengi, Ferengi! Before we can answer they begin to argue amongst themselves. One tall, skinny man around our age puts his hand over the face of a colleague to physically silence him. Jostein and I are in Shashemene, ~3 hours out of Addis, on our way to Bale (Bah-lay) Mountains located another ~3 hours from here. The men continue to clamor for our business as we slowly walk towards the rows of vehicles, dotted with different colors and shapes. Many are decorated with western brands and painted with Amharic words which dance with the eccentric alphabet. We’re the bull let into the ring of bus-broker-matador’s swinging their flags. Whose color will catch our eye? The tall skinny man runs away for a moment as we contemplate a competitor’s offering. He darts back, cutting into the circle with his hands behind his back. He completes a deep and graceful bow. His arm brings forward a bunch of kaht, a leafy green plant that when chewed rigorously gives a subtle stimulation and complete loss of sensation in the mouth and lips. We decline his offer but can’t help but laugh at his ear to ear grin and general cartoon semantics. After settling on a mini-bus that will take us to Bale for $5 each, we head to the restroom.

Now, it should be clear that bathrooms in bus stops in developing countries need a complete overhaul of Western expectations. If you thought that the rest-stop toilets outside of Denver were bad, or London public bathrooms were vile, come to one of the poorest countries in the world and use a bus stop public toilet made for locals. It’s a row of holes in the clay ground. Has it ever been cleaned? How would one even go about doing so? I won’t go into descriptions of the scents or sights that accompany such heavenly locales, but it’s a humbling experience for any intestinally sensitive person. It can’t be helped; bathroom life in a developing country as Jostein put it oh so well ‘is like talking about the weather’. Back at the mini-bus, we take our choice of least uncomfortable seats. An hour passes as the team of salesmen wrangle people to get on the bus. They argue over prices, seating, and just about anything else. Young boys, old women, and many in between come by and try to sell tissues, coke, and other homemade stomach bombs. As soon as they see a westerner, it’s hard to deter them. We’re entertainment if nothing else. Looking up, the sun is overhead now and the park seems very far away.

A relatively empty 'mini-bus'

A relatively empty 'mini-bus'

It should also be clarified about what a ‘mini-bus’ really is. It’s a damn van. A Toyota van, and not a particularly large one at that. Everything in the cabin has been taken out and replaced with rows of seats, five in total. It’s 7am, and we are crossing the road to get into our first mini-bus of the day. ChuChu (our taxi driver) told us ‘you Russian now, or Bulgarian, we like them’. This advice comes in-case we get questioned or hassled on our travels today. We are immediately put on the back of a mini-bus headed where we are headed. As every seat was full, I assumed it was time to go. But then someone else in crammed in the front aisle. Then another in the aisle behind that. There are 15 of us now. Two more are put in the seats directly in front of us. Some yelling and pointing and one person moves to the row Jostein and I are in, making 4. Bear in mind I’m not a small guy and Jostein is significantly taller than me. The van starts to move, 19 of us now. The ‘bus broker’ now hops on with his small wooden stool they all carry. He yells at the driver, his arm attached to our 21st passenger, struggling to keep up with the van. We are now a clown car, and I can’t imagine the pain the suspension these things must go through over the years. It must be similar to that which my legs will be sustaining in the next three hours. The realization of the awkward angle my hips and legs are fall flat. There is nothing I can do or will be able to but simply sit.  

After settling in, I notice there is a man staring at me. Children stare because they are curious, don’t know social rhetoric, and can get away with it. Right now, this man is a child. His head turned at a 90 degree angle, his gaze is locked to me. He is wearing a red and black scarf which covers his head and most of his face. His sclera (white part of the eye) has a yellow-brown tint, and his iris scans my face. Not a word spoken or gesture from the man-child. Stone-cold staring. Minutes go by. He turns forward. Minutes go by, he turns back. And so this goes for some time. I’m not sure what he was so curious about, or if he had a problem with me being there but it was too early to put much thought into it. Whether this classifies as a hostile encounter I can’t say, but if so, it is the first on the trip.

An Ethiopian bus stop

An Ethiopian bus stop

Public transportation in a place you’ve never been can be very insightful into the lives of the locals. In central Europe I encountered clean and efficient systems that reflect the nature of those who built and use them. In Costa Rica everyone rode old school buses that were colored and decorated. They stopped every ½ mile or so to pick someone up on the side of the road, whether the trip was 20 miles or 200. Besides always being the cheapest option, public transport can get you in the shoes of the people. The thing is, while it may be uncomfortable and at times aggravating, you get to wear your comfortable shoes again. Try some out and you may find you look at our own pair a little differently. 

Aside: Portraits

Click here to see a gallery of portrait or portrait like photos from Ethiopia

I am semi-consumed with photography while I’m travelling. It’s not that I’m thinking about taking a picture every second or hunting for that big travel image (think Eiffel tower in black and white), but instead photography is my way of describing the experience of a new place. This often arises through smaller and less significant things than monuments and museums. Any google search can bring those up, along with the many generalizations and associations that are already labeled upon them in your mind. Instead, the feel a city can invoke is carried in the minuet and intimate. For me it was:

 The mash of color and texture in Marrakech 

 The rich and nearly surreal sea life in Greece

 The emotional content of everything in Seville


And so on.

In Ethiopia this is no different. My camera is almost always with my body. Being in a developing country, I had some scepticism in how this would be received. In Marrakech it was rarely received well. I was asked several times – kindly and not so kindly – to delete any pictures my accuser had been in. Luckily, Ethiopia is more relaxed and less tourist centric, and in general the populous is un-phased or intrigued by my camera. I even got asked to take someone’s picture! What a joy. There is constant struggle in photography to decide to intervene with the subject in order to get the light and feeling just right for the portrait or action shot, or provide no interruption and simply observe. I have always preferred the latter. However this trip I am asking for portraits. This requires a close shot, one that would be intrusive regardless of the size of the camera, as the subject now becomes the individual and not necessary their surroundings. The details of their face, their expression, outfit, and posture all provide a plethora of those intimate moments I seek to capture. Yet the person is aware of the camera, so can this really be authentic? It seems that way, seeing some of the great portraiture work of the past. But the age of the selfie has somewhat turned my view of portraits sour. But it’s worth trying, and this is a great place to do so.

Click here to see a gallery of portrait or portrait like photos from Ethiopia


Ethiopia day 3: culinary celebration

“You drink more coffee, you make me happy” If only my life were so simple all the time. The woman relaying this simple but life affirming message is serving our group of tourists and tour guides freshly roasted coffee. When I say fresh, I mean several minutes have not gone by since they left the pan she roasted them on. Over a coal fire fanned with expert finesse, the beans were brought to the perfect roast. My Seattle coffee standards and snobiness were destroyed; the simplicity and strength (jump out yo’ bones strong) are unforgettable. Strangely, Ethiopians now eat popcorn with their coffee, slightly sweet and very good. Coffee + popcorn? Not sure how it works, but it does. Despite being on a tour, I couldn’t be more pleased with where we are. It’s a place I would normally pass by without a second glance. That’s when having a local is invaluable and making such a personal faux pas of being a tourist on a tourist tour tuns out surprisingly well. The experience draws the line of knowing you can't be a local, but wanting to feel like one anyway.

Before joining, Jostein and I walked around the center of Addis Ababa under the midday sun. We decided to check out a massive Orthodox Christian Church. As we approached, the sounds of drums and singing grew louder. Around the corner of the main entrance was a wedding ceremony, and they were on the move. Dressed in nearly all white, the party danced and sang their way to where we stood. A friend of the groom smiled and told us 'traditional, very tradition'. He encouraged us to stay and watch, and yes the camera as just fine. The tradition was indeed rich, you could see it in the faces of the singers and clappers alike. The words didn't matter, the emotions were on the sleeve and in the beat. As we were walking away, a young boy squealed with laughter and ran at us. Tripping along the way, he showed the genuine welcoming nature of many Ethiopian's I've had contact with so far. High fives were exchanged.

Most of day was spent on this ‘eat Addis’ food tour, started by an American couple that Jostein has now becomes friends with. We started with injera, one of the most traditional Ethiopian foods seen on nearly every family table. Of course, this means your grandma does it different than your neighbors, which is obviously the superior recipe, and so on. It’s a fermented dough made from teff flour and water. Our food guide provides a detailed account of how the dough is maintained through partial boiling and remixing to keep it clean before it is steam baked for several minutes. My bread nerdom is enthralled. Most importantly, the result is a delicious thin and moist, crepe-like sponge with a strong sour kick. Served with various dips, here we get lentil and chickpea based choices, one spicy, one creamy, both right up my alley.

 Onwards and into some of the best beef I’ve ever had. The joint is called Yilma. It’s twice as expensive as any other place in Addis, and for good reason. The owners run the farm, the butchery, and the restaurant. This allows them to know the quality of the beef and in turn they cook it perfectly medium-rare, which is a rarity to the blackened beef commonly found in other restaurants. They serve the beef two ways– raw and cooked. We have some raw cuts of something delicious, served with delicious chilli spice, some mustardy-horseradish and a lentil sauce, I dig in. You may be thinking ‘raw beef in Ethiopia?’ and you would be right in thinking this is a dangerous endeavour. But this all organic, hippie grown stuff that went down without any repercussions, and delicious at that. Cooked ‘tibs’ with onions top the raw stuff; the beef is tender and simply prepared. However neither can top the final serving of some of the best ribs I’ve ever had, all washed down with Turbo, a mix of cheap white wine, beer, and sprite. Strange, yes, but it works with the red meat.

We end the night we freshly fried fish and a juice mix of avocado/mango/pinapple/papaya. Barely able to waddle, Jostein and I stop by the local grocery store to stock up for our 3-night trip to Bale national park. It’s been months since I’ve escaped the flat-ness that defines Cambridgeshire and my craving for rolling hills and nonhuman sounds is reaching a crescendo. 

Ethiopia day 2

Is that.. Bob Marley? I ask Jostein and our driver, Chuchu, passing by the bronze colored statue of the Rasta man in a full rock-out pose, dreads suspended behind his head. It is, I am told, as Mr. Marley and the former Emperor of Ethiopia Laile Selassie were very close. In fact, Rastafarians worshiped Selassie in a god-like fashion and in return were given land in Ethiopia by the emperor, where they still roam for free to do this day. Our driver then turns the conversation into his nearly universal disapproval of government officials here. “Snakes, they are all snakes. I prefer the devil” he sighs as his phone relays a text message from a customer.


That morning, after a long, uneventful sleep Jostein and I made it into a local restaurant and I had my first cup of Ethiopian coffee. My expectations for the black brew in this country are extremely high, and the first cup does not disappoint. Strong, not too bitter and finished off with some ambiguous tones a snob could call ‘nutty’, ‘a touch of caramel’, or some other, I’m satisfied. The owner of the joint is an ex-pat, colorfully dressed and equally passionate about her food. We order breakfast sandwiches with local avocados which are incredible to by UK flattened fruit pallet. I ask her about the bread, which has a homemade feel to it. “It is”, she says, “but be careful with the flour here, each batch is different, it keeps you on your toes!” To get around the city, we use drivers from a blackmarket, uber-like taxi system. Just above prices of a traditional taxi, and still very affordable (~$10 for a 20 minute drive) we get on-demand service with guys Jostein has by now befriended. We’re on our way to hook into Wi-Fi, which I mentioned in my first post is not commonplace here. Jostein has scouted the best places to get the daily IV of internet, and the Washington hotel is the spot today. We order some delicious ginger and honey tea, and settle into our gmail accounts and facebook messages.

The hotel lobby is very well decorated and the full bar and soft music sets an ambiance that is unlike the streets just outside. The dissonance dissolves as the lights flicker once, twice, and out they go. This happens three times in the 90 minutes we were there, which at times is not an unusual rate. But my impression of Addis so far fits this; on one hand it appears to be growing into the modern, industrialized world very quickly, while on the other the poverty stricken history hangs on. The streets are filled with construction sites and young workers bringing supplies in on wooden planks and standing on wooden scaffolding. Yet many of these projects are funded by foreigners, often the Chinese, and with labor prices in Ethopia some of the lowest in Africa, the profit very well may be staying outside of their hands.

Walking the streets, you are a part of the city. Often in States and Western Europe it feels like inside buildings make up most of what we associate with the city, with the streets more of a passageway then way of life.  This distinction does not exist here; the pulse of Addis Ababa is along the crumbling sidewalks and many little shops that are a part of the outside as they are inside. Women sell corn on what is left of the sidewalk, boys run around holding trays of gum, cigarettes, and cheap jewelry. So far, even the hecklers have been friendly. In any developing country being a westerner highlights you as a money source, and here in no different. But it’s not intrusive or overwhelming, which allows me to take in the city and culture with little stress. 

 We end the night having pizza at Juventes (famous Italian football club) which is a mash of football fields/bar/restaurant/kids playhouse and pizzeria. They even have a wood burning oven. We eat with Jostein’s friend, who is working for Tony Blair’s NGO here in Addis. We head to her’s for a drink afterwards, and the power is out. Ethiopian simply doesn’t produce enough electricity for the growing need. However, one of the largest hydro dams in Africa is planned to be operational in the next few years, which may indeed help shape this country as it moves into industry and modernity.



Ethiopia Day 1: getting there

“excuse me” mumbles the British-Turkish man as he shoves his gold iPhone towards the plastic window, settling under the bridge of my nose. As the plane descends above the Mediterranean on the Istanbul air strip, where my 3-hour turned 5-hour layover takes place, the iPhone’s hard drive is splattered with photos of a grey sky, small clustered houses and the water below. I can only wonder if these photos, now numbering in the dozens and growing, will ever been seen again. As I gently return my head to the rest, pulling out clumps of nose hair now engrained in the phone, I notice a ‘rolex’ symbol on the man’s watch. Questionable. When I boarded the plane I saw this high roller taking selfies in first class. Clearly, as he sat next to me and the rest of the peasants in economy, he enjoys appearing on a higher shelf than he may actually be standing on. This man perfectly represents everything about a traveler I try not to be.

Rewind eight hours and I'm sitting in the sunrise at the Cambridge train station. Commuters, glued to their phones, fixate on the day to come, generally unaware of the glorious morning around them. I'm wearing running shoes, black socks, my best Africa safari beige shirt, with my backpack and a small handbag. The majority of my weight comes from my camera gear and laptop. This trip is meant to be part travel, part research, and part business, although travelling usually wins these battles. 

The travel: the capital, Addis Ababa; the national park, Bale. The research; a cultural comparison of maths anxiety in relation to maths performance in elementary school kids. My lab has this data from the UK and collaborators in Italy and South America. This would represent the African cohort. Although this largely depends on collaboration from the major University in Addis Ababa, which has been difficult to coordinate up to this point. The business; my new company Cambridge Data Analytics, has its first client and I'll be writing a proposal for our work and starting to talk negotiations. This will largely be taking place in internet cafés and hotels across Addis Ababa. Internet is not ubiquitous here. In fact, several years ago it was non-existent, and remains so for residential purposes. 

It was nearly 2:30am by the time I caught Jostein's attention at arrivals, my arms flailing up and down with relief that I wouldn't have to sleep on a bench until the morning. The viking-Norwegian is doing his PhD (economics & development) research here in Ethiopia, studying the move towards a manufacturing economy the second most populous country in Africa is finding itself in. He's been here for nearly two months and is really embracing Ethiopia, albeit missing the everyday luxuries of Wi-Fi, reliable electricity and water. He tells me, however, that Addis Ababa may be one of the most exciting cities in the world at the moment; bursting at the seams in development, doubling in size in the past decade and showing no signs of slowing. Keep in mind, however, that Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Do you think the fair trade signs you read on the walls of Starbucks are leaving piles of money here? The great majority of coffee is exported at extremely low costs, with profit coming afterwards. Although I can't see beyond the headlights of our driver's miniature Toyota, I can feel the economic struggles that persist here. Not in a metaphysical sense mind you, but the bumps and potholes that run across the streets give the message to me in braille.

Despite the time of our arrival at his flat, which he shares with a fellow Cambridge PhD student, Vincent, we stay up and catch up for some time. He found some luxury beer (a porter) at a local bar and bought a crate of it. We snack on Turkish Delights I brought as a small gift from my layover in Istanbul and by the time I check my watch, it's nearly 4am. Time for a sleep which can concisely be described as rock-like.