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.