Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ethiopia 101

Each day brings new challenges and frustrations to us, but rarely has a day gone by when we haven't been touched by the kindness of strangers as we get used to their country.
I was fortunate to meet Naizgi last week when I went to the tourism office.  He  has started his own tour company called Royal Ethiopia Tours and has also agreed to be my guide and translator. 
Naizgi has been extremely kind to me
Three wheeled taxis are plentiful in Mek'ele and I've found a wonderful driver who speaks enough English and has a smile that is contagious.
It's hard not humming the tune to the "Flintstones" when driving around in these taxis

Roger continues to try and get the first drill going.  I think this may be one of the most challenging projects yet.
Truck at our hotel with a Hitchhiker deterrent system

A cattle drive going by Roger's warehouse.  Check out the horns!

In yet another first....a load of steel was delivered to the warehouse with a horse and wagon!
I got a kick out of seeing this small child watching Barney in the hotel lobby.  Sometimes we laugh when we see or hear American songs or TV shows while we are in places so very different.
Barney in Ethiopia
I thought I was prepared before I arrived, but there are lots of things that the tour books and websites 
don’t carry.

  • I haven’t come across a grocery store larger than most of your living rooms.  Even in some of the smallest places where we’ve lived, there has always been a place to buy most items.  Here, it looks like I’ll be going from one little store to another to purchase goods.  I’ve been told not to expect western style butchers either.  That, will take some getting used to.

This is a large "mall" that also has some indoor stores.
  • I have not seen a police man since I arrived, and very little army.  Having lived in Colombia for a year, this is a huge change.  Crime in Mekele is low and usually limited to pick pocketing so when I go to the market, I’ll bring someone with me. 

  • I’ve only heard one ambulance.  The drivers are incredibly good considering most roads have horse drawn wagons, cattle, 3 wheeled vehicles, taxis and people walking on them (despite sidewalks).  They drive quite slowly and while they do beep their horns, it’s like living in an episode of “Driving Miss Daisy”.  They also always pull over to the side of the road to use their cell phone.

  • Customer service is alive and well.  When they see me carrying something, one of them invariably runs over to help me.  Yes, they know they’ll get a tip, but good customer service is appreciated anywhere, is it not?  It also amazes me as they can run up the 4 flights of stairs to our room carrying luggage!  No need for a Stairmaster here.  
  • Ethiopians are quick to return a smile and because so many of the old guards/security men are from the reserves – we often get saluted and Roger and I automatically return the salute!

  • It is not unusual for same sex people (usually men) to walk arm and arm. It looks so companionable and sweet.
  • It saddens me to see those working in unsafe conditions.  Below me, I see a welder at the hotel using his torch without a helmet or gloves.  Earlier today I saw a little boy of no more than 5 years old, shepherd a flock of lambs across a busy street.  Later I saw a lamb on its own and I was very tempted to try and reunite the shepherd with the lamb....but I doubt if that would have ended well.

  • There are no diet drinks available
I’ve always prided myself with the ability to eat pretty well anything with gusto.  I’m afraid I’ve found the food hard to get used to, but am hoping the more we experiment, I’ll find a bigger range of things I like.  In the meantime, no need for my “miracle underwear”!
    Anywhere in the world -- Coke
 We went to a traditional restaurant...
Roger is behind the bar (in the yellow shirt). They had rum on the bar menu, but they didn't understand him so they let him check out the bottles!

First they come with soap and warm water to wash your hands because there are no utensils

The stew is placed on injera (the grey spongy bread on the platter and rolled up).  The injera is broken off and used to scoop up the stew.
On the way out of the restaurant we saw people eating a wonderful looking salad with bread and having a glass of wine.  Somehow, we wished we had ordered that instead.  I think some of these dishes are an acquired taste.

What doesn’t surprise me is that I’m reminded of just how lucky most of us are.  We didn’t choose where we were born, or what color skin we have.  People work incredibly hard here, in an incredibly hard environment.  I admire anyone who puts in a good day’s work – and for that, I have great admiration for the Ethiopians.

I am grateful for those who have shown such kindness.  They are my teachers, guides, and friends.  My education continues.

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.               
~Mark Twain

    1 comment:

    Andrew said...

    Heather, great update, I have eaten at an authentic Ethopian restaurant in KS, no utensils and spongy bread. I never went back a second time to try and get an acquired taste. Andrew