Sunday, November 20, 2011

Foraging for Food

I’ve turned into a whiner.  I’m embarrassed, disappointed in myself and determined to nip it in the bud.  Since arriving in Ethiopia I lost something.  The joy of eating.  I feel my whining about food is an affront to Ethiopians who don’t have enough to eat, but people that know me, know that I love good food.  

My appetite is just not what it used to be.  It’s been hard to wrap my head (and dare I say, my stomach) around buying beef with flies flying around or chickens that are either at the market with ropes around their necks or butchered with still undigested food remaining in their get the picture. 

It’s taken a couple of weeks since moving into our house, and a lot of trial and error, but thanks to my bajaj driver, I’m finding shops and market stalls where the quality and variety is better.  Having said that, if these shops were in Canada – we would all run screaming to the nearest Food Inspection Agency, but here, I’ve set the bar pretty low and fortunately, we’ve had minimal stomach issues.    

Here are some pictures from my shopping trip yesterday.  It took 2 hours and 9 shops to get meat, fruits/vegs, bread, dry goods, and I ran out of enthusiasm and steam before hitting the shops where I buy eggs and water.  No one stop shopping, here!

Below:  I finally found a butcher shop where the meat is refrigerated and the meat grinder had a plastic bag over it.  I was so happy that I was able to look the other way at all the other food handling faux pas...
The butcher was a very nice man who got a kick out of me wanting to take his picture.  Note the weights on the scale which is the typical method that produce and meats are weighed. 

Two women buying chickens (see...they are hanging by their claws) from a man on the street

This is the "mall" where I buy household goods.  It's like a giant flea market and walking into the shops is like walking through a mine field.  However, Gebrai, my driver, knows where to find everything and all the shop owners enjoy me trying to say a few words in Tigrayna.

Buying vegetables at the market.  Gebrai (in the middle) is making sure they give me good produce.  There isn't a huge variety, but the basics are here and have been very good.  I'm just not ready to turn vegan!
Below:  There are a couple of things to check out in this picture.  First, I love the donkeys -- they are everywhere and placidly go where they are told.  Second (see the man in the red and white shirt), it is very common to see men holding hands or embraced as they walk through the city.  It's not because they are gay -- it's just the way they show companionship.  I love seeing this because life is so very hard here, that I'm glad people can give each other comfort in such a manner.  Having said that, when I mentioned it to an Australian geologist, he just responded, "No way -- it's too gay".  To each his own!

One of the main streets in Mek'ele
The money here is so worn, it is often falling apart.  This is 1 Birr which is about 5 cents

I love seeing the old men visiting on the street corners and many men wear suits

Seeing horses and wagons is as common place as trucks

Curious what things cost in Mek’ele?
  • Dinner for 2 with a couple of beers or wine at a nice restaurant is under $20
  • Beer: 50¢
  • Bottle of South African wine: $13
  • 3kg of ground beef: $15
  • Can of baked beans: $4
  • Bottle of Knorr salad dressing: $6
  • 3kg of potatoes, 2 kg of Roma tomatoes, 1 kg of red onions: $4
  • Camel:  $1,000   This might sound like a bargain, but considering most Ethiopians make less than $3 a day – a camel would represent a year’s income and it would be like us buying a luxury vehicle
While shopping yesterday with my bajaj driver, many kids stared at me and shouted “hi”.  Others cut to the chase and yelled “Money”!  Begging is not a huge problem in Mek’ele, and I’ve noticed many shop owners and others giving small change to some elders asking for money.   I carry small bills in my pocket, so if I’m asked, and I’m with someone, I give to the older people.  I don’t give to kids (this practice is discouraged as the children feel they can beg instead of going to school), or if I’m walking on my own as that would put me in a vulnerable position. 
Gebrai, my bajaj driver picking me up at the house

Gebrai keeps wanting me to drive the bajaj!

Ready to hijack the bajaj!
So, looking on the bright side – Roger and I have lost a few pounds and eat treats without an ounce of guilt.  Each shopping trip usually yields a great “find” (yesterday was apples) so we’re making progress.  And while visions of a delicious steak, cheddar cheese, bacon and a few other things dance in our heads – I know a website with “101 things you can make with ground beef” is just a click away.

An empty belly is the best cook.  ~Estonian Proverb

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